The announcement of visa-free access to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara by Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has made the Sikh community jubilant, writes SARRAH

When Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry disclosed that the Imran Khan government was planning to give Sikh pilgrims “visa-free direct access” to the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, there was jubilation among Sikhs and other people across the border this side. Chaudhry had said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf-led government was developing “a system” for Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib and some forward movement is expected soon. He made it clear that Pakistan will soon open the border at Kartarpur for Sikh pilgrims who will be able to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur without visas.”

What led to discussions on the issue was that people are in favour of the opening of the corridor because there has been a longstanding demand in India for opening a corridor for the Sikh pilgrims between Kartarpur Sahib in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province and Dera Baba the two sites, barely 6-km apart. However, there was a section that was completely opposed to it in view of India’s deteriorating relations with Pakistan, terrorist infiltration from across the border and killing of soldiers in the crossfire and terror activities.

Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu unfazed by criticism of his recent trip to Islamabad for Imran Khan’s oath ceremony reiterated that he had “no words to thank” the cricket veteran turned- prime minister for opening the corridor of Kartarpur Sahib on Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in November.

All this happened while Sidhu faced political flak back home for embracing the Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during the oath ceremony. Some attacked him for his newfound “huglomacy” while Sidhu told his detractors when prime minister, Narendra Modi could give hugs to dignitaries why can’t he? He went ahead and requested the central government to reciprocate.

Pakistan agreeing to open up the corridor to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, a historic Sikh pilgrimage 120 km from Lahore is a very significant development. Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Sikh Gurus, had settled down there after his travels thus making the place a sacred place.

Sidhu also pleaded with the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Ministry that when Pakistan has made an effort, we should also reciprocate, adding that this “is not the time for religion based politics”.

However, it was not the BJP that was the only party to criticize Sidhu but within his Congress party, there were murmurs of dissent. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh too joined the chorus to take on Sidhu for attending Imran Khan’s oath ceremony. At the ceremony, by design or incidence, Sidhu was seated on the front row next to a Pakistan Occupied Kashmir leader. However, Imran Khan supported his cricketer turned politician friend by posting tweets describing Sidhu as an “ambassador of peace”.

To ensure that Indian government reciprocates the Pakistan move, Navjot Singh Sidhu wrote to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on September 8, 2018, asking her to utilise the opportunity because when opportunity strikes, it is time to make use of it. He mentioned that the Kartarpur Sahib corridor would bring joy and happiness to the Sikh community the world over.

Sidhu wrote that “Such is the sentiment of the pilgrims in India that they visit the border everyday just to have a glimpse of this holy shrine through binoculars arranged by the Border Security Force at the Border in the Dera Baba Nanak region of India. Some touch the holy earth and some depart with tearful eyes”. Now, Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh too has begun appreciating the efforts of local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and termed Pakistan’s announcement to open the Kartarpur corridor a welcome move for Sikh pilgrims.