Expressing his willingness to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Thursday said that relations between New Delhi and Islamabad would improve with Imran Khan becoming his country’s prime minister.
Though Sidhu, Punjab’s Local Bodies Minister, expressed his willingness to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan, he said that his participation would depend on permission from the Centre.
Imran Khan invites Aamir Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Navjot Sidhu to oath-taking ceremony on August 11
Pakistan: PTI wants PM Modi, others at Imran Khan's oath taking ceremony; asks Foreign Office for possibilities
"If I am allowed, then I will definitely go. It is a huge honour," Sidhu said.
Sidhu said Khan’s elevation could make real his dream of seeing the celebrations for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev next year begin from Nankana Sahib in Pakistan.
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy slammed him for accepting the invitation, saying Sidhu’s decision to go was “treacherous” as the new Imran Khan-led government will be a front for terrorists.
Sidhu heaped praises on the former Pakistan cricket captain, referring to him as a “pure soul” and someone who was seen as a “Greek god”.
Watch: Ready to attend Imran Khan's swearing-in, says Navjot Sidhu
"My personal opinion is that sportsmen break barriers. They unite people. I see a sportsman in great Imran khan and I see someone who will always do good for the mankind. I have great hopes that relations will improve," the minister told reporters.
“I believe this could be a new era. This could be a new dawn and this could usher in an era of hope," he said.
Sidhu figures in the list of Indian celebrities who have reportedly been invited for Khan’s swearing-in ceremony.
These include actor Aamir Khan and former cricketers Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar.
Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has emerged as the single largest party in Pakistan's National Assembly after the July 25 general election, but lacks the numbers to form the government on its own.
Khan had reportedly said he would take oath as Pakistan's prime minister on August 11.
Asked whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi should attend the ceremony if he gets an an invitation, Sidhu said he was nobody to comment.
“He is the prime minister of India and he is mature enough. I will mind my own business. It will be his prerogative. I am nobody. I respect him as prime minister of India," he said.
Thanking Khan for extending him the invitation, Sidhu said he has "personal relations" with the former cricketer.
"It is a great honour and wonderful gesture,” he said.
Sidhu recalled how he first met Khan at Faridabad in 1983 during a cricket match, and they developed mutual respect.
"I saw him as a pure soul. I saw him as a selfless man who always worked for the team," said Sidhu.
"He was regarded as a Greek god. When I saw him from closer, I found him more than that," said Sidhu.
He also shared his experience of facing Khan’s bowling attacks.
At a time when politics has become a profession, he said one could always trust Khan.
"He has been empowered to change the system," Sidhu said.
"He set up a world-class cancer hospital, and a free-of-cost service is provided to the patients," he said.
Sidhu said he wanted to take Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to start the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev from his birthplace.
“It appears that it could be a possibility with this honour. Now a lot could change," he said.
He also talked about the Kartarpur corridor to give access to Sikh devotees to another shrine in Pakistan, and about opening up the Hussainiwala border crossing.
"If a route between Karachi and Mumbai is open for the rich people, then why someone from Amritsar cannot have a biryani in Lahore and return the same day?"he said.
He batted for starting sports between Indian and Pakistani Punjabs.
"If the government says there are certain issues then they should be resolved," he added.
"The thaw must begin and the ice must melt. Someone must make a beginning. I see infinite possibilities with Khan Sahib," Sidhu said.
On drug smuggling from Pakistan, he said every issue which is connected with Punjab will be taken up.
Asked about the reported decision of Aamir Khan to not attend the swearing-in ceremony, Sidhu said he respected the actor’s opinion.
(With PTI inputs)