THE DESIRE EXPRESSED by the Indian government for a link to the holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib and Pakistan government’s offer to provide the link four kilometres inside its territory is a landmark moment in the confidence building relationship between the two neighbours.
It appears that backdoor diplomacy did the ground work before the two countries announced their decisions within hours of each other. Pakistan deserves the credit for initiating the move on the eve of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev even though it was a long-standing demand of the Sikhs. The Indian Government too had in the past taken up the issue but had never pressed hard for it.
Unfortunately, however, politics over the issue have marred the happy occasion. The race to take credit for the move or to criticise political rivals has exposed political leaders and they would be mistaken if they think the ordinary citizens do not see through their games.
First so much was made out of cricketer turner politician and now Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu being invited by the new Pakistan prime minister and a personal friend Imran Khan for his swearing in ceremony. Then the spontaneous hug between Sidhu and the Pakistan Army chief, when the later told Sidhu that there was a plan to provide corridor for Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, was made a major issue. What if Sidhu had stood stiff or turned his back when Gen Bajwa was trying to hug him. By reciprocating the gesture, Sidhu had by no means absolved the Army General or Pakistan of all the crimes they had committed.
Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, whose animosity towards Sidhu is common knowledge, too publicly disapproved the hug Even though he had given permission to Sidhu to visit Pakistan.
The race to take credit for the move or to criticise political rivals has exposed political leaders and they would be mistaken if they think the ordinary citizens do not see through their games.
Akalis, who just can’t stand Sidhu, went hammers and rings and some of them even described Sidhu as an anti-national. They could not have allowed Sidhu to run away with the credit and at the same time would have liked credit for themselves since they claim to represent Sikh panthic community.
Evidently they pressurised its coalition partner at at the Centre to take up the issue and backdoor diplomacy channels were activated for a simultaneous announcement.
However politics again played out at the inauguration of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor project which was jointly organised by the Centre and Punjab Government.
The raking up of the issue of 1984 attacks on Sikhs by union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal at the function led to protests from certain Punjab minister leading to an ugly spat. Capt Amarinder Singh also refused invitation from Pakistan Government to attend the function on its side of the border but allowed Sidhu to attend it. Similarly External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj declined the invitation but deputed two of her Sikh colleagues, Harsimrat Kaur and Hardeep Singh Puri to attend it.
Such public display of political hostility and attempts at taking credit should have been avoided. If the political leaders think that the general public can’t see through their motives, they are completely mistaken. Indian voters have time and again proved that they are mature and understand politics. It was they who at one time gave Congress over 400 lok Sabha seats and in another election brought the party down to 44. The same public had once given only two seats to the BJP but gave it a majority in another elections. The verdicts in Punjab and other states too reflect the thinking of the people from time to time.
While the high stakes involved in taking credit for opening of Kartarpur Sahib corridor, so dear to Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular, were understandable, it would have been a sign of maturity if politics could have been avoided when another nation was involved.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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