NEW DELHI :
The Indian government’s seeming denial of political clearance to Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Congress legislator from Punjab, to travel to Pakistan to take part in the Kartarpur corridor inauguration has snowballed into a controversy.
But why does Sidhu need political clearance to travel to Pakistan?
This is because he is going at the invitation of Pakistan or as a guest of the Pakistan government. The Pakistan government did send him an invite, according to media reports.
According to the Indian government, Sidhu is free to travel to Pakistan as an ordinary pilgrim. All he would need at that point is a visa from the government of Pakistan. But if he wishes to go at the invite of the Pakistan government or as a representative of the Indian government, then he will need political clearance.
Remember the recent instance when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was denied political permission to travel to Copenhagen for an official event last month? Kejriwal was denied official permission on the grounds that the Copenhagen event was something that officials attend and not someone of the designation of chief minister of a state.
In Sidhu’s case, he is not included in the official delegation put together by the Indian government that comprises the likes of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, cabinet ministers in the Modi government – ie Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri.
A reason for Sidhu’s non inclusion in the official list could be his actions during his past visits to Pakistan – that were seen as embarrassing to New Delhi. When he visited Islamabad last year in August as the guest of the Pakistan government for Imran Khan’s swearing in as the prime minister of Pakistan, Sidhu had landed himself in controversy when he was seated next to the president of the so called “Azad Kashmir" – known in India as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Sidhu had on that occasion also hugged Pakistan’s army chief Qamar Bajwa. The Pakistani army is seen as the driver of policy towards India, the US and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s relationship with India is mainly seen as adversarial with terrorism seen as a keen element of Islamabad’s policy. It was also during Sidhu’s August visit that he said he had broached the subject of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor – something that Pakistan army chief Bajwa had then responded positively to. Then Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had then rebuked Sidhu for this.