Navjot Singh Sidhu said his much-reviled hug with the Pakistan Army chief has reaped dividends.
Cricketer-turned-Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu may no longer be a member of the BJP, but that has not prevented him from thanking the central government over its move to develop a corridor for Sikh devotees to visit the hallowed Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in neighbouring Pakistan.
In a letter to Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Mr Sidhu said the passage has been a long-awaited dream of Sikhs across the globe. "As a Sikh devotee and a man committed to the cause of Punjab and its people, I am extremely grateful for the steps initiated by the Government of India," the letter read.
Kartarpur Sahib, where Guru Nanak is believed to have spent the last 18 years of his life, is situated in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province. For many years now, Sikh devotees have been demanding that governments of both the countries collaborate to build a corridor linking it with the Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab's Gurdaspur district.
The Union cabinet approved the development of the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the Pakistan border on Thursday. The Ministry of External Affairs also sent a communique to the Pakistan government, urging it to reciprocate by developing a corridor with suitable facilities from its side of the border to the religious site.
The Pakistan government has now agreed to open the Kartarpur Corridor on Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary. Its Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is expected to lay the foundation stone for their part of the corridor on November 28.
Mr Sidhu said that while the corridor would bring "great respite" to Sikh devotees, there was a lot more the centre could do in this regard. "Both the people of Punjab and I would like the Government of India to write formally to Pakistan, asking them to ease visa requirements and other issues so as to allow pilgrims easy passage once the corridor is complete," the letter read.
Earlier today, Mr Sidhu spoke on how his much-criticised embrace with Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa earlier this year had reaped rich dividends for the Sikh community in the form of the Kartapur Sahib corridor. "My hug turned out good for 15-16 crores of people as the central government is now making a move to develop the corridor from the International Border to Gurudwara Kartapur Sahib. At least this deal was not similar to the Rafale deal," Mr Sidhu quipped.
Many had slammed the former cricketer for hugging Mr Bajwa during his visit to Pakistan in August. "Somebody of that stature going to Pakistan and then hugging the Chief of their Army — an Army about which India has very clear feelings — will certainly have an impact on soldiers, people in the Ministry and the public," Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said.
Mr Sidhu, however, defended himself with gusto. "What am I supposed to do when someone tells me that we belong to the same culture, then speaks of opening the route to the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib?" he asked.
The Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara is located 120 km from Lahore, in Pakistan's Punjab province.
(With inputs from Agencies)