Seeing Sikhs throng to Kartarpur and extend sincere thanks to Pakistan is clearly causing much grief to Modi and his aides
The Kartarpur initiative is just another example that shows how Pakistan is willing to go the extra mile to create an atmosphere of peace in the subcontinent while India is bent upon sabotaging all such plans. The last resting place of the founder of the Sikh religion had been lost in oblivion for the longest time, and only the most devoted pilgrims from nearby areas could access it. And if it hadn’t been for the personal initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, ably assisted by all organs of the state, especially the military, it would never have become the site that it is today, which Sikhs flock to from all over the world to pay homage to their founder and give thanks to the government of Pakistan.
The Pakistani government also extended visa relaxations despite the atmosphere of animosity created by New Delhi, just so our Sikh brothers and sisters would not get tangled in the political exchange when they deserved to be able to travel to the last resting place of their religion’s founder as and when they please; especially on special occasions. Yet this idea rubbed the Modi government the wrong way right from the start. Initially, Delhi had promised to allow a couple of thousand pilgrims to travel to Pakistan when the Kartarpur corridor was first inaugurated. But when the time came for the Sikhs to make the journey, the Indian government only allowed a few hundred people to cross the border.
Then, for months, it played the Covid card to clamp down on all Kartarpur-related travel. But now, at the time of Guru Nanak’s 552nd birthday, it was forced to let some travellers through once again. The glee and passion of Sikhs were visible as even the chief minister of Indian Punjab made the journey and his happiness at taking part in the celebrations and gratitude to Islamabad for making it possible was not lost on the foreign press. How the Indian media portrays it, if it gives it much coverage at all, remains to be seen.
These are times when Delhi is all the more reluctant to facilitate Sikhs in any manner possible. The reason is that much of rural Punjab, which predominantly comprises Sikh farmers, erupted in rebellion when the Modi government implemented unfair new agriculture laws, which threw the entire sector to the profit-and-loss mercy of large powerful corporations. That this happened just when the farmer community was plagued by the highest number of suicides in its recorded history, because of farmers’ inability to make ends meet, shows how little the government cares for the sector that provides all of India with its food. Corporations rule out things like support prices for crops, which implies further cuts in farmers’ already minuscule incomes. And the fact that farmers have camped outside Delhi for more than a year now, vowing not to return till the new rules are revoked, clearly pinches the pro-Hindutva, anti-minority government in Delhi.
During such times, seeing Sikhs throng to Kartarpur and extend sincere thanks to Pakistan is clearly causing much grief to Modi and his aides. It is, indeed, very petty of the Indian government to play politics, so to speak, over such matters. Yet try as they might, the Indians will not be able to contain forces that have already been set in motion. PM Imran Khan identified Pakistan’s religious tourism potential very early on, and Kartarpur is only one of a long list of initiatives that are already in the pipeline. This is a brilliant strategy that will not only do wonders for the national exchequer but also make the country a melting pot of different religions and cultures as different people from around the world visit our shores. It will also go a long way in diluting the extremism that has been creeping into our society.
It’s for a good reason that they say when Muslims play hosts, the whole world comes round to understanding and accepting Islam. This is a classic example of leadership through the exercise of soft power. Such things work much better when other countries are also willing to play ball, of course, which is why the Indian government’s efforts to sabotage it have left such a bad aftertaste. It isn’t just from India that Sikhs come to Pakistan for their religious duties. A lot of them also came from the North American and European continents and none of them encountered any difficulties in their travels. It’s only the unfortunate lot that comes from India that runs into unnecessary problems just because of the narrow vision and politics of hatred practised by the Modi government in Delhi.
Yet the winds of change are already blowing. India’s ruling BJP can try to frustrate Sikhs all they want, but when the Kartarpur corridor was opened, any long term plans of containing their visits to Pakistan effectively bit the dust. Full marks to the government of Pakistan and its able military for pulling this off in such an impressive manner and that too in such a short time. And since this is only the beginning, there’s a lot more frustration in store for our not-so-friendly neighbours across the eastern border.
The writer is an old Aitchisonian who believes in freedom of expression, a freelance columnist, entrepreneur and social activist.