The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor seems like a breakthrough in political and diplomatic relations between the two feuding neighbours. Will it finally bridge the ‘divide’ to bring the two countries? Or will it pay the way for more jihadis for “travel visa-free” to perpetrate more terrorism into India?
The controversy that erupted immediately after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor is an apt example of political opportunism. Kartarpur, a small town in Pakistan which is only 4.7 kilometre from the India-Pakistan international border, holds immense religious importance and value to the Sikh community. It was in this holy place that Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the most revered first Guru of the Sikhs, spent the last 18 years of his life. It was here that the Guru articulated the basic tenets of Sikhism and it was here that he left his mortal remains on September 22, 1539.
Adjoining Kartarpur Sahib on the Indian side is the township of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, which is part of Gurdaspur district in Punjab. The township was raised by the “Bedi” descendants of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Before the Partition, Kartarpur Sahib was an integral part of Dera Baba Nanak. After the Partition, it was taken over by Pakistan.
The Sikh “Ardas” (a prayer that is conducted twice before and after performing any vital task) consists of a supplication for the Sikh community to be given the opportunity to pay obeisance at Gurudwara Nankana Sahib and all other Gurudwaras that the community has been separated from. Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib is the most significant Gurudwara referred to in the Ardas; such is the sentiment held for the holy place within the Sikh community.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji has a profound influence not only on the Sikh community but on the world at large. His teachings are widely studied and articulated across the globe for their relevance to the whole of humanity. A holy place like Kartarpur Sahib associated with Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been a significant loss for the Sikh community. Any effort to ’right’ this historical ‘wrong’ needs to be viewed in the broader perspective; most importantly, it has to remain above petty politics.
It is very sad and hurtful to note that after taking such a path-breaking decision, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, chose to use a solemn occasion to play politics. He made wrong statements on the nuclear status of the two nations while mentioning that “Kashmir being a problem between the two countries.” Such statements had no place in the ceremony, and they vitiated the environment considerably.
The presence of the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa and that of Gopal Chawla, the Secretary of the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, who is known to hold Pro-Khalistan views, was another major political dampener.
More shocking was the statement made a few days later by the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. While hailing the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor as a “big achievement” of the Imran Khan Government, he said, “Imran delivered a ‘googly’ and India sent two ministers to Pakistan.” It would be tough for any Foreign Minister, who is supposed to be a seasoned career diplomat, to be more crude and insensitive. He is known to be hawkish, but this comment broke all limits of decency. At one stroke, he damaged whatever political benefits that could have accrued from the initiative and also alienated the Sikh community. Qureshi later attempted to wriggle out of the untenable situation, but that too was a ham-handed attempt as is usual with him. Imran Khan fully understands the damage done by his Foreign Minister and has attempted to control the same, but the attempts have fallen short of castigating his foreign minister, so the purpose is not served.
It is not surprising that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj responded to Qureshi’s complete lack of grace. While ruling out any possibility of resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, she most aptly replied to Qureshi through a tweet which read, “Your ‘googly’ remark in a dramatic manner has exposed none but YOU. This shows that you have no respect for Sikh sentiments. You only play ‘googlies’. Let me explain to you that we were not trapped by your 'googlies'. Our two Sikh Ministers went to Kartarpur Sahib to offer prayers in the Holy Gurudwara.”
Swaraj also said that the opening of this corridor should not be viewed as a resumption of dialogues between the two countries, as terror and talks cannot go together.
A second and even more disgraceful attempt to gain political mileage out of this very narrative has been made nearer home by the Congress party. Always on the lookout to earn some quick brownie points, it attempted to take all credits by projecting comedian-turned-politician-turned comedian- Navjot Singh Sidhu.
His attendance at the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan is being projected as the catalyst for the path-breaking initiative seeing the light of day. What is being conveniently forgotten is that the idea was first mooted by late Atal Behari Vajpayee, way back in 1999 during his famous bus ride to Lahore as Prime Minister of India. Pakistan responded to the suggestion in 2000 by agreeing to allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurudwara visa-free and without a passport by constructing a bridge from the Indian side to the shrine. It was the successive Indian governments led by the Congress party that failed to further the matter to which both countries had already committed.
Even as the political leadership of Pakistan gave a positive indication to Sidhu, it was the NDA Government at the Centre that acted with alacrity. Within months of the dialogue, the Indian Government, on November 22, approved the Kartarpur Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the Pakistan border and on November 26, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone of the Indian side of the corridor.
It was very heartening to see the immediate response of the Government of Pakistan. To maintain an essential positivity, it is this response that needs to be kept into consideration and not the politics that came with the same.
The emotional impact of the initiative is unfathomable; it will go much beyond the Sikh community to encompass the entire world. It must be remembered that Guru Nanak Dev Ji is revered by Muslims, Hindus and other communities alike. He was, in his lifetime, influenced by many Muslims! He was an admirer of the Muslim ascetic, Baba Fareed, and his closest associate, Bhai Mardana, was a Muslim.
The Kartarpur Corridor may have the potential to reduce the tension between India and Pakistan. It has, in a short span of time, garnered so much popularity that the governments of both countries may well be compelled to give way to popular opinion and move towards improving relations between the two countries.
It is hoped that the negative reaction to the attempt to politicise the holy initiative will serve as a lesson to desist from taking this path in the future. Outright attempts at exploitation of something so holy will have a dangerous effect for those who attempt the same.