Why In­dian Sikhs need binoc­u­lars for dar­shan across the bor­der

The promise of visa-free ac­cess to Gur­d­wara Kar­tarpur Sahib in Pak­istan has raised devo­tees’ hopes, but there’s no ac­tion on the ground yet

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - | POLITICS POLICY - PAK ISTAN Gur­d­wara Kar­tarpur Sahib In­ter­na­tional Bor­der Dera Baba Nanak IND IA

Dera Baba Nanak: The queues have be­come longer at the dar­shan sthal, near the in­ter­na­tional bor­der in Pun­jab’s Gur­daspur district. The last few days have seen Sikhs con­verge in greater numbers from all over In­dia to catch a glimpse of one of the holi­est Sikh shrines — Gur­d­wara Kar­tarpur Sahib, sit­u­ated 4.5km away in Pak­istan’s Narowal district, across the Ravi river.

The in­crease in foot­falls comes af­ter Pun­jab min­is­ter Navjot Singh Sidhu’s an­nounce­ment l ast month that Pak­istan’s army chief, Gen Qa­mar Javed Ba­jwa, had as­sured him of plans to open the route from Dera Baba Nanak to Gur­d­wara Kar­tarpur Sahib for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year. Last week Pak­istan’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter Fawad Ah­mad Chaudhry stated that the Im­ran Khan gov­ern­ment was plan­ning to al­low “visa-free di­rect ac­cess” to Kar­tarpur Sahib for In­dian Sikh pil­grims.

For now, a glimpse is all the pil­grims get from the view­ing point. On a clear day, devo­tees can see the white painted struc­ture and dome of Kar­tarpur Sahib from the dar­shan sthal, con- LONG-DIS­TANCE DE­VO­TION:

Sikh history says that af­ter com­plet­ing his fa­mous four jour­neys, Guru Nanak came and set­tled down in Kar­tarpur Sahib in 1522, where he lived a sim­ple life till­ing fields for the last 17 years of his life on earth. Later, a gur­d­wara was con­structed there.

Baljin­der Kaur, a pil­grim from Pa­tiala, says that ev­ery Sikh in their daily ar­das (prayer) seeks un­hin­dered ac­cess to Nankana Sahib and other gur­d­waras in Pak­istan. “Hope­fully, our prayers will be heard soon,” she says.

Jag­tar Singh, vi­cepres­i­dent of Gur­d­wara Guru An­gad Dev Ji in Salzburg, Aus­tria, says he has been com­ing for dar­shan to the dera for the past 11 years. “A pil­grim cor­ri­dor will be a mile­stone in forg­ing cor­dial re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan,” he adds.

So far though, there has been no of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion from ei­ther Pak­istan or In­dia. But the re­cent visit of the In­dian high com­mis­sioner, Ajay Bis­aria, to Kar­tarpur Sahib is be­ing con­sid­ered a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment. The ear­lier gov­ern­ment had pre­vented Bis­aria from vis­it­ing Gur­d­wara Panja Sahib near Rawalpindi on two oc­ca­sions.

Over the years, a num­ber of pro­pos­als and ini­tia­tives have been made to take the is­sue for­ward. In 1999, then Pak­istan pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf had of­fered to al­low In­dian Sikhs to visit Kar­tarpur Sahib from Dera Baba Nanak with­out pass­port and visa. Noth- ing came of it. A decade later, on Oc­to­ber 1, 2010, the Pun­jab as­sem­bly passed a res­o­lu­tion ask­ing the Union gov­ern­ment to take up the cor­ri­dor is­sue with the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment. Ra­jya Sabha MP from Gur­daspur, Par­tap Singh Ba­jwa, had even floated the idea of swap­ping un­in­hab­ited land in Gur­daspur district with Kar­tarpur Sahib land in Pak­istan. There is one in­stance of this af­ter Par­ti­tion — In­dia swapped 12 vil­lages near Sule­manki Head­works in Pun­jab’s Fazilka district with Pak­istan for get­ting back Hussainiwala, the site of the fa­mous Na­tional Mar­tyrs Memo­rial where Bha­gat Singh and some other mar­tyrs of the free­dom strug­gle were cre­mated. In 2010, the US-based In­sti­tute of Multi Track Diplo­macy had pre­pared a fea­si­bil­ity re­port on ‘Kar­tarpur Marg’, sub­mit­ting it to the In­dian and Pak­istani am­bas­sadors in Wash­ing­ton DC. The re­port pegged the cost of con­struc­tion at Rs 106 crore for In­dia and Rs 16 crore for Pak­istan. Mean­while, the Shi­ro­mani Gur­d­wara Pra­band­hak Com­mit­tee (SGPC) has of­fered to con­struct the cor­ri­dor on its own if both gov­ern­ments agree. “We don’t want any­one to play pol­i­tics on such a sen­si­tive re­li­gious is­sue,” says SGPC pres­i­dent Gobind Singh Lon­gowal. Var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional Sikh del­e­ga­tions have also been lob­by­ing for a cor­ri­dor with Pak­istani of­fi­cials.

On a clear day, devo­tees can see the white dome of Kar­tarpur Sahib (be­low) from the dar­shan sthal

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