Pakistan PM receives mixed signals from New Delhi

In this photograph released by the Press Information Department (PID) on Aug. 18, 2018, newly appointed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) meets with members of the 1992 Cricket world cup team and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu (top R) in Islamabad. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Pakistan PM receives mixed signals from New Delhi

  • Modi congratulates Khan, but BJP slams hug between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pakistani Army chief
  • I felt too much love and affection from Pakistan when I was there, says Sidhu

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated Imran Khan on becoming Pakistan’s premier.
In a letter to his counterpart, Modi expressed the need for constructive and meaningful bilateral engagement.
He also expressed his commitment to peaceful, neighborly relations, and stressed the need for a terror-free South Asia.
But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for visiting Islamabad to participate in Khan’s swearing-in ceremony.
The BJP demanded Sidhu’s sacking from the post of Cabinet minister in Punjab province, and asked the opposition Congress Party to “sack him from the party for hugging” Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army chief.
The hug “is not an ordinary thing,” said BJP spokesman Sambit Patra, adding that Sidhu “is not an ordinary man but a minister in the Punjab government, and every Indian has taken this issue very seriously.”
Sidiq Wahid, a Kashmiri scholar and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, told Arab News: “The muscular nationalism practiced by the Hindu right-wing BJP treats other nationalists as the enemy.”
He said: “I see hope for meaningful talks with Pakistan only when there’s a dramatic change in the current trajectory of Indian politics.”
When contacted by Arab News, Sidhu declined to comment, but upon his return to India he said: “I pray for the people who criticized me, but I felt too much love and affection from Pakistan when I was there.”
Vinod Sharma, political editor of the Hindustan Times, told Arab News that “it’s unbecoming of a mature democracy” to raise the issue of Sidhu visiting and hugging Bajwa.
“India isn’t that weak as to not let an Indian be hugged by the Pakistani Army chief. The paranoia of the right-wing fringe is a gross misrepresentation of a great democracy that India happens to be,” Sharma said.
“The Hindu right wing is adept at creating India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim binaries for political-electoral gains,” he added.
“It’s a dangerous game, and in the name of defending India they’re hurting its time-tested, inclusive character.”
But Robin Singh, a Punjab-based journalist and civil rights activist, said: “Sidhu crossed his brief while visiting Pakistan. He forgot that he is a public representative, and should have kept in mind the troubled relationship between India and Pakistan. By hugging the army chief, he has hurt the sentiment of people in India.”
The Congress Party has refused to comment on the issue, terming it “a personal visit of Sidhu to meet his friend.”
Sharma said this “polarizing debate is disturbing and aimed at sheer electoral dividends,” blaming “a section of the Indian media for the propagation of binaries to enhance their market share.”
He added: “It’s a self-defeating pursuit as it doesn’t leave the audience educated on complex foreign policy issues.”


Dozens arrested around flashpoint Indian temple

Updated 12 min 48 sec ago
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Dozens arrested around flashpoint Indian temple

  • The Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala has become a major battleground between Hindu radicals and gender activists
  • Tens of thousands of pilgrims have thronged to the hilltop shrine since it reopened Friday amid unprecedented security

PAMBA, India: Indian police arrested 68 people taking part in protests around a controversial Hindu temple ahead of a Supreme Court ruling Monday on whether it should be given more time to let women enter.
The Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala has become a major battleground between Hindu radicals and gender activists.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims have thronged to the hilltop shrine since it reopened Friday amid unprecedented security.
“We arrested 68 devotees after overnight protests around Sabarimala,” V.N Saji, assistant commissioner of Kerala police, told AFP.
The region has been increasingly tense with Hindu organizations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposing the Supreme Court order to let women in the temple. There have been several protests and strikes.
Many pilgrims going to Sabarimala have also complained about restrictions on their movement during the new clampdown.
The Kerala government sent thousands of police to the region fearing a repeat of pitch battles between devotees and security forces in October, when the temple first reopened after the Supreme Court ordered the lifting of a longstanding ban on women of “menstruating age” between the ages of 10 and 50.
The ban reflected an old but still prevalent view in some areas that connects menstruation with impurity in Hinduism.
Police said many of those arrested late Sunday had been protesting against a ban on spending the night on the hilltop around the temple.
Media showed images of shirtless devotees — following the pilgrimage tradition — chanting mantras as they faced off with police.
About 700 women have registered to pray at the temple over coming weeks however none has yet made it to the hilltop.
Protesters stopped one leading woman activist from leaving the state’s main airport to get to Sabarimala.
The board which manages Sabarimala temple will on Monday ask the Supreme Court for more time to admit women, citing a lack of infrastructure.
In January, the country’s highest court will also hear challenges to its decision to lift the ban on women.