RAJEEV KHANNA | 5 NOVEMBER, 2019
Politics Plays Out on Kartarpur - Where is The Man of the Moment, Sidhu?
Politics over the Kartarpir Corridor
CHANDIGARH: Even as the political forces in Punjab are embroiled in an act of one upmanship to take credit for the opening of the Kartarpur corridor and to run each other down, the person who could have been the man of the moment for India – Navjot Singh Sidhu—is missing from action.
Just as the excitement on the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is heading towards the crescendo, the question being asked across Punjab is where is Sidhu?
After all it is Sidhu along with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who have emerged tall in Punjab,mainly Sikhs, for addressing their aspirations to visit the holy Gurudwara of Kartarpur Sahib on the other side of the India-Pakistan border.
Sidhu, the otherwise garrulous cricketer turned politician seems to have gone into political hibernation ever since he was sidelined by the Congress leadership after the Lok Sabha polls. He has gone incommunicado for the last several months. This speaks a lot about the Congress culture at work and re-mephasises that the party has not given up the habit of shooting itself in the foot.
It was on Saturday that a Punjab government spokesperson came out saying that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has forwarded Sidhu’s letter, requesting permission to visit Pakistan for the Kartarpur corridor inauguration to the chief secretary for necessary action.
Singh later told some media persons in an informal chat that, along with all other MLAs, Sidhu had also been invited to join the all-party Jatha going from Punjab to Kartarpur Sahib via the corridor on November 9. He said the deputy commissioners had contacted the MLAs in their respective districts, and the Amritsar deputy commissioner had been pursuing the matter with Sidhu’s office but the latter had failed to respond.
On late Monday evening there were pictures of the invite from Imran Khan doing the rounds on the social media specifying that the very first invitation had been issued to Sidhu. The latest reports suggest that Sidhu has submitted the required documents to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with regard to the invitation received from acting Pakistan High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah on behalf of Imran Khan for the inaugural ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor that is scheduled to be held on November 9. MEA had asked for the official invitation from Sidhu saying the invitees would have to take the required route for clearance.
Besides Sidhu, many in Punjab have been happy that Khan did not try to scuttle work on the corridor despite the chilly relations between India and Pakistan. In fact sections of the Indian media have carried stories against Pakistan on the corridor and the Punjab CM has also been making a noise about the increased activities of the ISI in the border state. Just a couple of days ago Singh issued a statement making it clear that he still has his suspicions about Pakistan’s intent and believes the corridor opening to be an ISI operation, aimed at wooing the Sikh community for Referendum 2020, being promoted under the guise of the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) forum.
There is no doubt that Imran Khan has been playing his cards well wooing in the Sikhs. He tweeted photographs of the decked up Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara and the corridor on November 3. And just before this he announced on twitter, “For Sikhs coming for pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off 2 requirements: i) they won't need a passport - just a valid ID; ii) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance. Also, no fee will be charged on day of inauguration & on Guruji's 550th birthday.”
The Indian politicians, be it the Congress government in Punjab or the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine have been trying to play up the imposition of the 20 US Dollar fee being levied as service fee by the Pakistani government on pilgrims intent on making a visit to the gurudwara on the other side of the corridor. They have termed this fee as ‘Jaziya’ (tax imposed on non Muslim subjects that finds reference in Indian history).
But a very large number of Sikhs have come out saying that they have no problem with the charges saying that they even pay a heavy toll tax on highways when they go to visit the Golden Temple or other Sikh shrines within India. Many others have been pointing that why there is no such noise made on charges levied on pilgrims undertaking the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet.
Meanwhile the Akalis and the Congress have been squabbling for several weeks now over the possibility of having joint celebration events both at Dera Baba Nanak and also at Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district. While Guru Nanak had spent 14 years working in Sultanpur Lodhi, he had spent the last days of his life at Kartarpur.
As of now there is no consensus on holding joint celebrations and the reasons for this are petty political concerns. Reports say that the Congress led state government and the Akali dominated Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) are likely to organize separate events at Sultanpur Lodhi. The same may be repeated on the Indian side of the corridor where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend a function along with the top Akali leaders. The Piunjab government is planning a separate event.
Amarinder Singh has lamented the politicisation of the Kartarpur corridor, in violation of the ideology of the great founder of Sikhism. He said that India should have stood as one, especially considering the ‘deeper agenda’ which seems to be behind the Pakistan decision to open the Corridor and also to set up a university in the name of the first Sikh Guru. But instead the whole issue had been politicised for vested interests. He said that politics should have been put aside and the mega event should have been left to the state government to organise.
On the other hand the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal has hit out at the CM for his duplicity pointing that Singh has challenged the supremacy of Akal Takht by defying its edict to participate in the joint celebration being organized by the SGPC which is the representative body of the Sikh community.
“The truth is before the Sikh Sangat. After playing hide and seek for more than two months and even claiming that he would abide by the directives of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, the chief minister had put in action the Congress party’s sworn policy to desecrate the highest temporal- religious body of the Sikh Panth,” Sukhbir Badal said.
Meanwhile concerns are also being raised on Pakistan offering waivers only to Sikh pilgrims and not all citizens of secular India who would be keen to visit Kartarpur Sahib. Many people have been saying that Guru Nanak has a following among people from all religions and Khalsa as a Panth came up much later at the time of the tenth guru. Amarinder Singh has reportedly asked Imran Khan to extend his waiver to all Indian citizens and to waive off the service charges for all days instead of just two.
However Kanwar Pal Singh of Dal Khalsa, an organization that is pursuing radical Sikh politics through democratic means, has a different take. “In principle it is a right demand. But Pakistan has its own security concerns. In addition to this Guru Nanak is always referred to as the founder of Sikhism. Maybe sometime later Pakistan can be persuaded to extend the waiver to everyone.”