Sikh bodies have been pushing a 3-km fenced corridor between India and Pakistan for Sikhs to be able to visit the historical Kartarpur gurdwara.
Chandigarh: At a press conference in Chandigarh Tuesday, Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu claimed that the Pakistan government was likely to open the Kartarpur corridor for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations to be held next year.
Justifying his ‘hugging’ Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, Sidhu said it was Bajwa who gave him this news and he reacted emotionally in the moment.
Sidhu’s claim could remain just that, but if this move does see the light of the day, it would mean the acceptance of a two-decade long demand of Sikhs and the Punjab government.
Various Sikh bodies, including the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), have been pushing for the construction of a three-km-long fenced corridor between India and Pakistan for Sikhs to be able to visit the historical gurudwara built at Kartarpur in Pakistan.
In Pakistani Punjab’s Narowal district, Kartarpur is the last abode of Guru Nanak Dev ji, the first Guru of the Sikhs. He spent the last 17 years of his life there.
The historical Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is situated on the banks of river Ravi and is considered to be the first gurdwara ever built.
When the original building of the gurdwara was washed away by flooding of Ravi, the then maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh reconstructed the building which was renovated by the Pakistan government in 1995. Later, a thick forest was cultivated around it.
The gurdwara is right on the Indo-Pakistan border, barely 3 kilometers away from the India side. On clear days, it is visible from a viewing stage built on the Indian side in Dera Baba Nanak. Sikhs gather in large numbers everyday to have a darshan of the gurdwara in Pakistan.
Proposal to Pakistan
In 1999, a proposal was mooted to construct a fenced corridor between the Indian side and the gurdwara for free access to the shrine for pilgrims without the requirement of a passport or a visa. The proposal was agreed to by Pakistan in 2000 but the project never saw the light of the day.
Dera Baba Nanak MLA and cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa was at the forefront of the demand for the corridor.
“In 2004, it was proposed that a bridge be constructed first across the Ravi. The bridge will be a part of the corridor. I tried to resolve the various land acquisition issues on both sides also. But security concerns were cited and the proposal was shelved,” Randhawa told ThePrint.
A host of attempts have been made since to get the corridor constructed but all have failed.
In 2004, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a visit to Amritsar assured that he will work towards the construction of the passage. In 2008, then cabinet minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Dera Baba Nanak to ascertain the viability of the project.
In 2010, the Punjab legislative assembly unanimously passed a resolution to ask the Union government to facilitate the construction of the corridor. In 2012, the SGPC approached Union Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna with the same request.
In 2014, Sikh bodies exhorted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring it on the table with then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. In May 2017, a parliamentary standing committee ruled out construction of the corridor citing negative political climate between the two countries. The seven-MP committee headed by Shashi Tharoor, former minister of state for external affairs, said the time was not right for constructing the passage.
In March, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to press for the construction of the corridor ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji next year. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee has demanded that the corridor be opened for at least a month during the anniversary so that Sikh devotees could pay obeisance at the gurdwara.
The Indian government’s move in light of Sidhu’s claims remains to be seen.