Indian Punjab Minister and former cricket player Navjot Singh Sidhu said India must capitalise on the warm reception he received in Pakistan by taking forward peace talks.

In an interview with The Hindu, said that he went to Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador and received a very positive message from people, politicians and friends, who desire peace in the region. He said the Indian government should take the dialogue forward.

The way I was welcomed, it has reinforced my belief that relations between India and Pakistan may improve in the near future. I have returned from Pakistan with such hopes. Mr Imran Khan’s emphasis on peace through talks has only affirmed my hope, he added.

Responding to a query regarding criticism over his visit, Sidhu said “See, my visit was not a political one, I went on an invitation from a friend (PM Imran). The visit was a goodwill gesture. We should capitalise on it.”

"Criticism will fetch nothing. If one doesn’t want to encourage goodwill then why have embassies? Why on Id and Independence day do we exchange sweets among jawans and shake hands? Why the Indian High Commissioner gifted a bat to Imran Khan? Why late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a ‘Dosti Bus’ to Pakistan. Why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi go and hug former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif", he said.

Sidhu said these are all ‘gestures.’ How can you criticise anyone for that? The underlining cause has to be understood my purpose of the visit was pure. I believe that communication should not break as talks are the only solution to resolve issues between the two nations. My philosophy is that all the world is my country, all mankind my brethren, to do good my religion.

Embroiled in a controversy former cricketer said, General Bajwa approached me and said I have good news for you: “We are contemplating opening a passage from Dera Baba Nanak (India) to Kartarpur Sahib (Pakistan) to facilitate pilgrims to pay obeisance on the occasion of the 550th ‘Parkash Diwas’ of Guru Nanak Dev.” It was an emotional moment for me as I am sure it would be for any ‘Punjabi’ and as a natural reaction, I reciprocated with a hug. I am not a robot. If someone comes and gives wings to the aspiration, to the dream of every Punjabi, won’t I have positive emotion for him?

“The hug was an emotional, natural human reaction. It was in Kartarpur Sahib, where Guru Nanak Dev had spent the last 18 years of his life. This issue pertaining to the passage has been pending for over decades. The Indian government should take concrete steps now, which would fulfil the dream of the entire Punjabi community,” he said.

“And then General Bajwa’s parting words were, ‘We want peace’ and that was the end of the conversation,” he added.

I went there as a friend, I spoke as a friend, I went with a message of peace and love as a goodwill ambassador. Positive anything is better than negative none and I want to be an instrument of good, he told.

I did not encroach upon that dangerous territory of politics and that was the reason I got so much love and regard from the people in Pakistan. I believe, instead of criticism, which has been disappointing and hurtful, we must focus on expanding trade and bonding between both the nations. I did not initiate anything, it has come from their Pakistan’s side India should seriously pursue the Kartarpur Sahib passage issue. What’s wrong in it? he asked.

Sidhu further added that the critics need to understand what the intention was behind my visiting Pakistan. My intentions were and are crystal clear I aspire for hope and prosperity in the entire region.