India, Pakistan to build corridor for Sikh pilgrims to visit iconic gurdwara
The plan to build a corridor on the Indian side leading to the border near the gurdwara was among a slew of proposals cleared during a Cabinet meeting to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019.Updated: Nov 22, 2018, 23:52 IST
India and Pakistan announced on Thursday that they will build a corridor on their respective sides to let Sikh pilgrims visit the iconic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi in the neighbouring country.
The plan to build a corridor on the Indian side leading to the border near the gurdwara was among a slew of proposals cleared during a Cabinet meeting to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019. The corridor on the Indian side will be built as an “integrated development project” with funding from the central government, and the Indian government called on its Pakistani counterpart to develop a similar corridor on its territory to “recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community”, said people familiar with the developments.
“In landmark decision, the Cabinet approves building and development of Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to International Border. Kartarpur corridor project with all modern amenities and facilities to be implemented with Central Government funding,” home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted minutes after the Cabinet meeting got over.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Punjab chief minister CM Amarinder Singh will lay the foundation stone of the corridor on November 26, news agency PTI reported citing sources in the state government.
“The move will facilitate lakhs of pilgrims desirous of visiting the Kartarpur gurdwara,” Amarinder Singh said in a statement.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal termed it as “historic”.
Soon after the external affairs ministry sent a note verbale of formal communication to the Pakistani high commission in New Delhi regarding the issue, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Twitter that groundbreaking for work in his country will be done by Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 28.
“Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary,” Qureshi tweeted. “We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion.”
India’s outreach to Pakistan also marked the first formal contact between the two sides since New Delhi called off a meeting of the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September over terror-related concerns. It comes at a time when there has been a sharp uptick by pro-Khalistan groups in countries such as Canada, the UK and the US. There have also been reports of Pakistan allegedly backing some pro-Khalistan elements in western countries.
“The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year. Government of Pakistan will be urged to reciprocate and develop a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory,” Singh said in another tweet. Briefing reporters, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said the proposed corridor would have visa and customs facilities for pilgrims and would be equipped with modern amenities.
Guru Nanak spent 18 years in Kartarpur and the decision to build this corridor was taken at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jaitley said. The funds for the construction of the corridor will be provided by the Centre.
There has been a longstanding demand from the Sikh community for the creation of a corridor to allow them to visit the gurdwara without visas. The matter returned to focus earlier this year when Pakistan Army chief general Qamar Bajwa told Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu during Imran Khan’s swearing-in on August 18 that Islamabad had plans to open a corridor to the shrine for Indian pilgrims.
After the Cabinet decision, Sidhu tweeted, “I thank the Govt. of India from the core of my heart and take a bow! I request the Hon’ble PM of Pakistan @ImranKhanPTI Sahib to take reciprocal steps for opening the Kartarpur Sahib corridor and spread Baba Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood and peace across the Globe.”
An official in the PMO added that India expects that the corridor should be open 365 days and 24 hours and there must be no restrictions on the number of pilgrims that are travelling across the border. There must be free and readily available consular access for Indian citizens on the Pakistani side, added the official.
The meeting of the Cabinet in New Delhi decided that Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary would be celebrated by the central government along with the state governments and Indian missions abroad in a “grand and befitting manner”, the people cited above said. A committee led by the home minister will monitor and oversee these celebrations.
On the Indian side, the corridor will be built from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to the border, and it will have all modern amenities and facilities for the smooth passage of pilgrims. The Indian government wants pilgrims to be able to visit the shrine throughout the year, the people said.
Officials in Islamabad said Pakistan had intended to discuss this matter at the meeting of the foreign ministers that was cancelled.
Against the backdrop of reports in the Pakistani media that the Imran Khan government had plans to start work on a corridor, people familiar with the developments in New Delhi said the Indian Cabinet’s decision was not in any way a response to any move contemplated by the Pakistani side.
There are plans to develop the town of Sultanpur Lodhi, associated with the life of Guru Nanak, as a heritage location for tourists, the person said.