Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu in an interview with NDTV on Saturday opened up about his exchange with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa during Prime Minister Imran Khan's swearing in ceremony, and shared what he thinks India could expect from the new Pakistani PM.
Sidhu's visit to Pakistan ─ on Khan's invitation ─ had sparked backlash from conservative quarters in India, including Haryana Minister Anil Vij and activists belonging to Indian PM Narendra Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, who criticised the Indian politician and called him 'disloyal' for visiting Pakistan.
Photos of the event showing Army chief Gen Bajwa hugging Sidhu also prompted curiosity about what had transpired between the army chief and Indian politician.
'Khan was not nervous'
Sidhu said it was a "great honour" to have been invited to Khan's oath-taking ceremony.
"It was a very humbling kind of experience that a 35-year-old relationship of trust culminated in an invitation from him when he became prime minister of Pakistan."
When asked whether Khan seemed nervous during the ceremony, Sidhu laughed. "Not at all, he was not nervous. I personally feel he was as confident as I've always seem him."
"After the swearing in, he walked up to me and gave me a big hug and said, 'Thank you very much for coming,' and then he said, like an elder brother would say to a younger brother, 'Shabaash, I'm proud of you.'"
"Then we had a conversation with for almost 30 to 40 minutes at the Secretariat where he met the winning World Cup team and I was with them. So it's just a great feeling, to be part of all this, part of [the] celebration."
Gen Bajwa's gesture of goodwill
When asked why he had met Gen Bajwa twice at the ceremony, Sidhu clarified that Gen Bajwa was not the only military man to greet him at PM Khan's oath-taking ceremony.
"All the three army chiefs had to come and meet the people sitting in the front row, so I met the naval chief and the air marshall as well. And in between, Bajwa sahab walks up to me and says, 'You know, I'm a general who wanted to be a cricketer.' So it was his dream."
On his second encounter with the general, Sidhu said: "He [Gen Bajwa] was very warm and he said, 'Navjot, we want peace.' That was wonderful to hear."
"Without me saying anything, he said that, 'When you celebrate the 550th birthday of Baba Nanak ... we'll open the Kartarpur-Sahib Corridor.' It was like a dream come true and I was so overjoyed."
"He asked, 'Happy?' I said, 'Yes sir, I'm very happy,' and he came forward and said, 'We'll even think of doing better things,'" Sidhu told NDTV.
Sidhu also said that he and Gen Bajwa also bonded over their shared lineage: "He's a [Punjabi] Jaat. Bajwas, Cheemas, Sidhus, Sandhus, they come from the Jaat family."
What to expect from PM Khan
When asked what one could expect from the new prime minister, Navjot appeared sure that "there will be no compromises. He will not compromise."
"The second thing that I can be very sure of is that he has clarity of thought. He will listen to everybody, but he will do what he thinks is the right perspective."
"When you have someone that you feel is a person of credibility, of trust, someone who's gone through the ordeal of life, someone who's actually taken those hard, tough tests and had the tenacity to claw out of those difficult situations ─ because character is not made in a crisis, it is exhibited ─ and that is where i'm coming from," he said.
"I have hope, and I have that trust. Only time will tell, the next six months, one year. Because nobody can actually come up with a policy and implement it in five months, six months. That's too early. I think you've got to give someone at least a year to assess the direction in which he is going to go."
"And there's one thing I am sure about ─ he will be taking the positive direction and according to me, positive anything is better than negative nothing."
'Hope India takes step towards Pakistan'
Recalling PM Khan's first address to the nation after the election, in which the PTI chief had said if India took one step forward, Pakistan would take two ─ Sidhu expressed hope that "India takes that one step.
However, he added, "Whatever has to be done, has to be done by the government."
"I think we need to take cognisance of the fact that this is a change, and any change will bring hope," he added.
"I pray to God that India takes that one step, because this is something which is new, this is something which is a new dawn, and ultimately, if we have to move forward [with] peace and talks on the table, moving in a positive direction is the only way."