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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

Pilgrims grow at Kartarpur, Sunday to see 1,800 visitors

According to people familiar with the development, as many as 1,800 people are scheduled to cross the border to visit Kartarpur on Sunday, November 24 — nearly three times the 671 people who were scheduled to visit on November 17.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2019 04:33 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib illuminated ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, at Kartarpur in Narowal district of Pakistan.
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib illuminated ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, at Kartarpur in Narowal district of Pakistan.(Photo: PTI)
         

The number of pilgrims and tourists from India who are travelling to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara across the border in Pakistan is gradually rising after a lukewarm initial response to the landmark initiative. According to people familiar with the development, as many as 1,800 people are scheduled to cross the border to visit Kartarpur on Sunday, November 24 — nearly three times the 671 people who were scheduled to visit on November 17.

Government data accessed by HT shows that the flow of pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib is picking up on weekends and on specific Sikh religious days. A total of 562 Indian pilgrims and tourists visited Kartarpur Sahib on November 9, the day the corridor was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Indian side.

On the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, on November 12, a total of 546 people from India made the trip.

The data shows that 229 people visited on Sunday, November 10; 122 on November 11; 279 on November 13; 241 on November 14; 161 on November 15, and 402 on November 16.

The Union government — PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah in particular — have reached out to the Sikh community over the last few months. Apart from driving the creation of the Kartarpur corridor, their efforts include the removal of the “black lists” that barred several overseas Sikhs from visiting India, and the ministry of external affairs is ensuring that there is no delay in giving visas to Sikhs abroad.

While both the Centre and the state government of Punjab have made all efforts to facilitate the Kartarpur visit for pilgrims and tourists, people familiar with the matter said that there were apprehensions among some overseas visitors, particularly from the West, that getting a Pakistan stamp on their passports could create problems in the countries where they live.

For the Kartarpur visit, however, Pakistani immigration only scans the passports of the visitors but does not stamp them.

The other issue, faced mainly by local Sikh pilgrims, is the $20 fee levied by Pakistan on all visitors despite repeated appeals by India to do away with the charge.

The people cited above indicated that the fee issue has been misused by Pakistan-promoted proscribed pro-Khalistan groups such as Sikhs for Justice, which has put up posters in Kartarpur seeking a refund of the $20 levy for all those Sikh pilgrims who visited Kartarpur between November 9 and 12. The banned group, backed by Pakistan according to security agencies, promotes Referendum 2020, a campaign to rekindle the demand for Khalistan as a separate nation.

While the Imran Khan government converged with India to agree to the Kartarpur corridor, the hidden message from Islamabad is to fan the Khalistan fires in the name of religion, Indian security officials said.

Punjab Minister for Jails and Cooperation Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said, “The state government has already opened doors of its e-Sewa Kendras (service facilitation centres) for the devotees wanting to use Kartarpur corridor. The registration form of the aspiring pilgrim is filled here free-of-cost. What else can a state government do to help the pilgrims? Actually, the union government should simplify the process of applications, the number will rise automatically.”

An MLA from Dera Baba Nanak, which has been connected to Kartarpur Gurdwara with the corridor, Randhawa has been overseeing the corridor project from day one.