PM Modi wants peace but it takes two to tango: Minister Hardeep Puri
As a kid, Hardeep Singh Puri was bullied in school. Being a Sikh he had long hair and was often teased about his plaits. His classmates, all foreigners, said he looked like a girl. It was a German lady who told him to hit back. “Don’t get bullied; bully them instead”, she had said. Hardeep did just that. “I learnt how to stand up to bullies and soon became one myself,” recalls the Union minister of state for Housing and Urban Affairs.
Years later as India’s Ambassador to the United Nations, he was detained at an airport in the United States for refusing to remove his turban during a security check. “I agreed to comply with the procedure but did not allow them to touch my turban,” Puri reminisces.
Therefore, for a devout Sikh like him, to be handpicked to go to Pakistan for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor was indeed a blessing. “As a Sikh, I felt privileged to go and offer prayers at Guru Sahib’s final resting place. I don’t know what was in the mind of the cartographer when he drew the line between the two countries, but I think the gurdwara should have been on this side of the border.”
The corridor involves a road link for Sikh pilgrims to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had declined Pakistan’s invitation to attend the groundbreaking ceremony citing her election campaign engagement in Telangana on the same day. She had deputed Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri to travel instead.
‘I BELIEVE SIDHU IS BEING USED’
Hitting out on Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s “exuberance” during the ceremony, Puri says that it’s time that “Sidhu does some serious introspection.”
“I believe that Navjot Singh Sidhu is being used,” opines Puri.
“Kartarpur inauguration was used by Navjot Singh Sidhu and people on the Pakistan side for political rather than religious purposes,” he adds.
Puri concurs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s view of the corridor initiative being anchored in hope, like the fall of the Berlin wall. “There can be goodwill, but if friends on the other side persist with policies where they stand exposed then the initiative would be undone. Pakistan could be well advised to turn a new leaf and do some introspection. Our Prime Minister wants peace but it takes two to tango.”
ON LIVING LIFE DANGEROUSLY
As someone who has spent nearly 40 years in the Foreign Service, Puri has, to quote him, “lived life dangerously.”
In 1987, he met LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran and persuaded him to come to New Delhi and understand the peace pact that India and Sri Lanka were going to sign to end the ethnic strife. “I met him several times and mapped his psyche. When we were flying him from Jaffna to New Delhi he was very nervous and kept throwing up. He had then told me that someday his deeds will catch up.”
For someone who has had a challenging career, Puri needs a purpose to every action of his, even if it is catching a movie. “I can’t waste my time watching a film where half way through I doze off.” He prefers watching shows at home on Netflix even though he says he needs help to log on.
But then at home he is spoiled for choice. His wife Lakshmi gave up her career in the Foreign Service; runs a dream home and serves an elaborate menu on handcrafted silver.
Even though Hardeep Singh Puri is averse to parties and small-talk, both he and Lakshmi entertain almost every day: close friends, colleagues or people from his constituency.
“Political entertaining,” Puri says is about keeping an open house. But left to himself, he would rather listen to music: bhajans instead of Pink Floyd as age catches up.