“So, what might be an act of the BJP and SAD to please the domestic Sikh audience could prove to be a disaster in the long run. The reason I have not mentioned the Congress here is because the Punjab chief minister unequivocally criticised Pakistan and took a principled stand by boycotting the Kartarpur opening ceremony….,” thus said one Sadhavi Khosla in December last year. Khosla calls herself a social activist and political analyst but comes across more as a mouthpiece for the Congress party, especially so, in Punjab.
Well!! Much water has flown in the five rivers of Punjab, especially the River Ravi, since Khosla made her ominous predictions. For one, the Congress lost miserably in the rest of the country but won in Punjab, so it seems that the BJP/SAD combine could not “please the domestic Sikh audience.”
Despite not being able to win elections in Punjab and yet forming the government with an absolute majority at the centre the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have remained steadfast in their decision to open the Kartarpur Corridor. The prime minister is now poised to attend a number of functions in Punjab during celebrations of the 550th birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, including the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor. Clearly, the commitment of Prime Minister Modi to the noble cause went beyond the electoral politics of “pleasing the domestic Sikh audience” as the likes of Khosla wanted the Nation believe.
Even Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh who, according to Khosla, “unequivocally criticised Pakistan and took a principled stand by boycotting the Kartarpur opening ceremony,” seems to have shed his inhibitions and is getting ready to take the first Jatha (congregation) across to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur. Here too our esteemed political analyst got her prediction wrong.
A doomsday scenario was not built by Sadhavi Khosla alone. She was, in fact, only a tip of the iceberg. Others “analysts of repute” also joined the bandwagon. Sushant Sareen, a much sought after “strategic analyst” and also a fellow with the exalted think tank, Observer Research Foundation said, “The sheer obtuseness of the government to think things through and understand the minefield it was entering is quite astounding. This Corridor will become a bone that is stuck in India’s throat which it will neither be able to swallow, nor vomit out.” This comment was made a little after the project was approved by both countries.
Nowhere in such comments can be seen even an iota of sensitivity for the sentiments of the Sikh community that has been praying incessantly for the opening of the Gurdwaras in Pakistan for purposes of Darshan (pilgrimage) ever since partition of the country.
One can, in fact, perceive divine intervention in the manner in which this project is progressing in the face of all odds. Despite Indo-Pakistan relations touching rock bottom in recent times the Corridor project has remained on track. “Work on the Kartarpur corridor will be completed on time as committed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. It will be inaugurated on time, but I can’t give any date for its opening as no date has been fixed so far,” said Mohammad Faisal, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman. It seems that the prayers of the millions of Sikhs and other followers of Guru Nanak Dev Ji are propelling the smooth application of the project. In the backdrop of such sanctity it may well emerge as the vital catalyst to rebuild trust with our neighbour.
Pakistan, of course, has its own axe to grind and its own set of achievables’ hinged on successful implementation of the project. Pakistan feels that it can win the favour of the internationally affluent and politically powerful Sikh community whose support can greatly help the country overcome its existing financial woes. The country will also use the Corridor as a means to cover up its abysmal record in treatment of minority communities and project itself as a tolerant state. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan says, “The white colour in the Pakistani flag represents minorities and it is as dear to the government as the green is.” This leaves no doubt about the policy intentions of the government. Malleable Pakistani Sikhs like Gopal Chawla have already started coming out in the support of Pakistan in the address of community affairs by citing Kartarpur corridor. “If Sikhs are not safe in Pakistan and they are being tortured then why Pakistan is in favour of corridor?” said Chawla recently in the wake of reports of one Baldev Singh, a Sikh politician of Pakistan seeking asylum in India on the claim that minorities are unsafe in Pakistan. Baldev Singh, incidentally, belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party of whose founder is Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan himself.
There is no doubt that the Khalistani (Sikh separatist) movement that has roots in a number of foreign shores including Pakistan will attempt to leverage the development to its advantage. There are already reports that people like Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, the so-called convenor of an abrasive organisation called Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) are announcing that they will refund the $20 entry fee of all Sikh pilgrims who will visit Kartarpur corridor and terming it as a “Bridge to Khalistan.”
There are a number of Hawks in the country, especially so among the senior retired Army Officers and the militant warlords who are quite unhappy with the development. On August 23, a little after India legislated for the reorganisation of its state of Jammu and Kashmir the Indian journalist Gaurav in India Today quoted Pakistan’s former Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg as saying, “”Pakistan army and the government should create trouble for India through Khalistan movement.” He added that “terror (Jihad) was the “only way to teach India a lesson”.
The proclivity of Pakistan taking a U-turn on the initiative also cannot be set aside completely and to this extent the doomsday scenario painted by some needs to be given due credence. The challenge, however, lies in going ahead with the project, exercising utmost vigilance and finding the right means to negate any inimical intentions that Pakistan my hold. The Sikh community is neither so stupid nor so disloyal as to become prey to infantile propaganda machinations by Pakistan and some fringe separatist elements. To this extent, the perseverance shown by the Government of India by going ahead despite all the pessimism being generated is laudable. It is, of course, fingers crossed till the project actually opens up.
(Jaibans Singh is a journalist, columnist and author)