Chandigarh: The impending inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor has set off a turf battle in Punjab, with the ruling Congress accusing the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) of using the event to gain political mileage.
With the opening scheduled for 9 November, the two sides have set up separate pandals (stages) at Dera Baba Nanak, the last Indian village on the border, to celebrate the historic opening, which will allow Sikh pilgrims access to the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal district.
The shrine is one of Sikhism’s holiest and is believed to be the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, held his first congregation. The inauguration of the corridor on 9 November will mark his 550th birth anniversary.
The ruling Congress is seething as it has been relegated in the celebrations.
The Akali Dal has been managing the show on the Indian side through the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the apex Sikh religious body that controls all of the Sikh shrines in the country. A majority of the SGPC’s members are Akalis.
The SAD has another factor in its favour — the party is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and has the backing of the Modi government. The corridor is set to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will address a public gathering at Dera Baba Nanak before launching the passenger terminal building on the Indo-Pakistan border.
On Thursday, Punjab Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, a close confidante of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the state government’s representative to co-ordinate with the SGPC, conceded that Modi will grace the SAD-constructed stage.
“The PM will be gracing the GoI-SAD-SGPC stage. We have handed over our stage to the sant samaj (Sikh saints),” said Randhawa.
Relegated twice over
To add to the Congress’ woes, it is also being overshadowed at Sultanpur Lodhi town, which houses the historic Gurdwara Ber Sahib, where the state government has been holding massive celebrations to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.
Amarinder launched the six-day celebrations Tuesday which are to culminate on 12 November in a function to be presided over by President Ram Nath Kovind.
But even here, the Congress government has failed to reach a consensus with the SGPC, which has now set up its own pandal in the town.
The SGPC is now claiming that Prime Minister Modi, who is expected to visit Sultanpur Lodhi on his way to Dera Baba Nanak, a nearly three-hour distance, will grace its pandal. The Sikh religious body is also claiming that the main event on 12 November will take place on its stage.
Congress reconciliation efforts in vain
The Congress has made efforts to reach out to the Akalis but the deadlock continues.
At a special session of the Punjab assembly Wednesday, several Congress ministers and MLAs urged the Akali Dal to ensure joint celebrations but the Akalis have for now ignored the pleas.
At the assembly session, Amarinder, while moving a resolution to carry forward the message of Guru Nanak Dev, requested SAD patron Sukhbir Badal to “commemorate this momentous occasion on a common platform, rising above petty political considerations”.
He was followed by Cabinet Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, who heads the organising committee of the Sultanpur Lodhi celebrations, in exhorting the Akali leaders to press upon the SGPC to join the government in organising the show.
“There is still time,” Channi said in the House. “Politically we can continue to oppose one another but let us not be divided over Guru Nanak.”
Akali MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala admitted that the celebrations should have been held collectively but his party has given no assurance that it will soften its stance.
War of words
The lack of consensus, however, had sparked a war of words before the assembly session.
Amarinder had Monday said it was “unfortunate” that the Akalis, under party chief Sukhbir Badal and his wife, Union Minister Harsimrat Badal, were trying to divide the Sikh community while celebrating Guru Nanak, who worked for inter-faith harmony and dialogue.
The CM had also lashed out at the SGPC for making a “virtual mockery” of the celebrations by playing into the hands of the Badals.
“Such major events have traditionally been celebrated under the aegis of the state government. But the SGPC, at the behest of the Akalis, has refused to support his government’s programmes this time,” the CM said.
Retorting to Amarinder’s statement, Sukhbir Wednesday accused the chief minister of repeatedly changing his stance on the corridor. “He first opposed it, then he welcomed it and said he would lead the first jatha (a pilgrim convoy) to Pakistan,” Sukhbir said. “Now three days before its historic opening he has again cast a shadow on its viability.”