India has finally agreed to sign the Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan. Initially, there were some reports which suggested a possible delay due to some ‘political reasons’. A statement released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that the bilateral agreement shall be signed on October 23. At the same time, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has declared itself as champion of minorities’ rights in India.
Pakistan is all set to inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor on the auspicious occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on 9th November 2019.
Going one step ahead in a bid to ensure regional peace & interfaith harmony in subcontinent. World’s largest Gurdwara in Kartarpur, Narowal for Sikh community of the World will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on 9th November 2019. pic.twitter.com/OvYhgTAcTt
— PTI (@PTIofficial) October 20, 2019
“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib … [the Indian] Government has today conveyed that we would be ready to sign the Agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 23 October 2019,” read the statement.
New Delhi has maintained its reservations over the $20 per pilgrim fee proposed by Pakistan. India has conveyed such reservations to Pakistani authorities. “[The Indian] Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee,” read the MEA statement.
Pakistan has completed the first phase of development of Gurudwara Kartarpur Corridor. The estimated cost for this corridor is Rs13.2 billion which includes construction of a bridge, road, rest rooms for capacity of 1000 person and other affiliated.
Seven to ten thousands devotees belonging to Sikhs community from India and other parts of the world are expected to visit their holy place on daily basis. Up to 5,000 Indians will be allowed access daily, with plans to eventually double the capacity, Pakistani project director Atif Majeed said.
After the General Elections 2018, political leadership in Pakistan was hopeful to establish long-term relations with India. However, despite many goodwill gestures, the response by India side was greatly disappointing.
The Sikh community has never received its due share in the country and have always been deceived. 87 per cent of the martyrs in freedom struggle were from Punjab, yet the Sikh community was never appreciated
In November last year, when PM Imran performed the groundbreaking ceremony to build the four-kilometer long corridor at Kartarpur, the premier’s friend and former Indian cricketer Navjaot Singh Sidhu was also present.
Pakistan also sent an invitation to the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor. “On behalf of the government, as the foreign minister of Pakistan, I invite him to attend the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during his press talk. But now reports are coming out that the former Indian premier has decided not to attend the ceremony as chief guest but as common visitor. Sources, GVS spoke to in Islamabad, maintain that it would have been politically incorrect for the former Indian premier to attend the ceremony in a situation where ultra-Hindu nationalism has hijacked the overall political process and public discourse in India.
BJP Taking all the Credit
The Modi-led BJP did not show much interest in the construction of the corridor. There have been various baseless allegations leveled against Pakistan by New Delhi and violations of Pakistan’s airspace. Despite all the tactics used by the BJP, Pakistan did not decide to shut down the corridor.
But now the Indian premier is calling himself the champion of Sikh’s rights who managed to get opened the corridor for them. The recent statement of the Indian premier irked Sikh Community. Ravinder Pal Singh Timma, President Gursikh Welfare Association, told to local media in Agra that this corridor was a brainchild of the association and they had been trying to get this it sanctioned by the Pakistan government for the past 19 years.
Read more: Politicking over Kartarpur Corridor: India Accuses Pakistan of “Making Business out of Religion”
He also showed some past documentation and correspondence he personally had with the foreign ministries of both India and Pakistan, Mr. Timma said that what the BJP is doing now, is taking credit of the fruit that has been borne by the efforts of the Sikhs. “The Sikh community has never received its due share in the country and have always been deceived. 87 per cent of the martyrs in freedom struggle were from Punjab, yet the Sikh community was never appreciated,” he said.
He said that he had even talked to the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during the Agra summit and requested that the Kartarpur shrine be gifted to India, or be declared No-Man’s Land and a corridor be constructed leading from the Indian border to the shrine.
Religious Minorities in India
The rise of Hindutva in India has been marginalizing religious minorities in India. According to several reports, the primary target of mob violence of BJP goons are Muslims but sometimes Sikhs who are believed to be ideologically alien are also beaten up.
The 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom released by Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, in June stated that Hindu-groups had used “violence, intimidation, and harassment” against Muslims and low-caste Dalits in 2017 to force a religion-based national identity.
Read more: Kartarpur corridor to remain open for Sikhs despite India tensions
It is important to recall that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) does not believe that Sikhs are a distinct religious community. RSS’s insistence that Sikhs are “Kesadhari Hindus” though a “valorous” ones hurts religious sentiments of the later and questions their distinctive identity in so-called secular India. Interestingly, there is a strong belief amongst Sikhs that RSS is actively conspiring to undermine their religion through various direct and indirect means to ultimately wipe them out.