Don’t Know Gopal Chawla: Sidhu on Photo With Pro-Khalistan Leader
The picture comes hours after Gopal Chawla was seen shaking hands with Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa.
Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu courted a fresh controversy on Thursday, 29 November, after pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Chawla posted a picture with the Congress leader on Facebook.
In a post captioned “With sedu pa g”, Sidhu is seen standing beside Chawla, who is one of the prominent voices seeking a separate homeland for the Sikh community.
Sidhu, however, dismissed the reports and said that he does not know who is Gopal Chawla. “There were probably 10,000 pictures taken of and with me (in Pakistan), I don't know who Gopal Chawla is,” Sidhu told news agency ANI after returning to India.
The controversy comes months after Sidhu was criticised for embracing Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa while the Punjab minister was attending the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In another Facebook post published hours before, Chawla was seen shaking hands with General Bajwa during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Karatarpur Corridor in Pakistan.
Who is Gopal Singh Chawla?
Chawla, who heads the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, is a prominent pro-Khalistan voice. Earlier this month, he had provoked anger in India after he allegedly stopped Indian officials from visiting a gurudwara in Lahore to meet Sikh pilgrims from India.
Chawla was one the prominent faces of the Khalistan movement that saw large-scale violence in Punjab in 1980s until the Indian government ordered a massive crackdown on separatists.
Chawla was a vocal propagator of 'Referendum 2020' that calls for the “liberation of Punjab.”
Moreover, Chawla has been previously accused of colluding with Jamaat-ud-Dawa Chief Hafiz Saeed in hatching a plan for bombing Mumbai on 26 November 2008, reported India Today.
Speaking to The Quint, Security Analyst Praveen Swami said, “Chawla’s name had cropped up during the investigation of the grenade attack on the Nirankari Bhawan in Amritsar, but there is no hard evidence against him.”
Chawla is vocal about his pro-Khalistani stand on social media, and in a Facebook video, he can be heard saying, “Bharat is not Bharat, it has become Hindustan, which is why we need Khalistan.” He goes to praise Pakistan and raise anti-India slogans.
No Intention of Creating Terror: Chawla
Defending himself, Chawla told CNN-News18:
“What is the big deal in getting a picture with Sidhu? I don’t know why I am dragged into everything. Why such links are created and I have no intention of creating any terror.”
Chawla also added that he clicked pictures with almost everybody present at the event.
However, on being asked about the “terror activites” in Punjab, Chawla said, “We don’t support terror. Punjab is ours and why would we create disturbance in our own home?”
On the sidelines of the ground-breaking ceremony, Chawla also met the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) President Gobind Singh Longowal.
Sidhu’s Meet-and-Greet Draws Flak
Speaking to the media, former Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “If Sidhu shakes hands with Gopal Chawla, who was involved in a terror attack in Pakistan, then he'll have to answer for it.”
Badal also said that Sidhu doesn’t care about any protocol and that he should remember that the general he shook hands with “makes the youth of his country fight and die everyday.”
Meanwhile, a Pakistani official clarified that the Pakistani Army Chief met all the guests at the Kartarpur ceremony venue and that the Indian media was taking a “myopic view” of the picture.
The BJP, too, reacted sharply to Chawla's photo with Sidhu.
“Such malicious tactics on Pakistani soil can not be ignored,” said Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. He also said that Sidhu should maintain distance in such meetings.
Manjinder S Sirsa, General Secretary, DSGMC and Akali Dal Spokesperson, tweeted:
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had on Wednesday, 28 November, attacked Sidhu for ‘his bonhomie’ with the Pakistan Prime Minister.
"He offered to have him (Navjot Singh Sidhu) fight elections from Pakistan. Sidhu seems to have more love and respect in Pakistan than what I noticed over here. He has some good relationships over there," Badal told ANI.
Kaur and Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri were present at the event as the Indian government’s representatives.
The corridor will allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is believed to be the resting place of Guru Nanak Dev.
(With inputs from PTI, CNN-News18 and India Today)
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