Sangh Parivar narratives on Kartarpur Sahib corridor fee being echoed by Sikh leaders
Gurinder Singh Bajwa is among the first five persons who offered prayer on the banks of Ravi at the point that later was developed as Darshan Asthan to have view of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib about 4 km away in Pakistan. That was on April 14, 2001. The senior most leader among the five was Kuldip Singh Wadala, who after parting company with Shiromani Akali Dal headed by Parkash Singh Badal had formed his Akali Dal (Democratic). Prayer has been held every month at this point since then without any break.
The prayer was held after a conference on the issue earlier in the day in the grain market of Dera Baba Nanak. As it was restricted area then, only five persons were allowed by the Border Security Force to go upto that point. Over the years, the demand for direct access to the shrine in Pakistan where the founder of the Sikh Faith lived for more than 17 years and breathed his last there turned into a movement. The dream of the five has now been realised but certain controversies arise from time to time that gives the perception that some forces have still not compromised to the corridor.
It is pertinent to mention here that when the demand was accepted by Pakistan after Imran Khan took over as the Prime Minister, a section of the Indian media, especially Delhi based, started expressing reservation on the perverted logic that the free access (otherwise controlled by security forces on the two sides) would be used by the terrorists. These people forget that the terrorists don’t need a corridor to cross over.
The latest controversy is regarding the service charges that Pakistan has announced to levy per visitor. There has been orchestrated opposition to the service charge from the leaders cutting across party lines describing it as a Jaziya (penal tax that used to be charged from mon-Muslim during Aurangzeb regime). The term in the context of Kartarpur Sahib corridor service charge has entered the narrative from the Sangh Parivar commentators including on the social media and picked up by Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
Various non-Akali Dal Sikh organisations have asserted that they are not opposed to the service charge. It is a strange situation that the Sikh devotees are not opposed to the charges but the leaders like Capt Amarinder Singh and Akali are making it an issue. Of course, nothing like free access without any charges but then devotees are willing to pay.
Going by position taken by Capt Amarinder Singh on various issues over time, it seems that he has been siding with the narrative of the BJP government at the centre and the Sangh Parivar, at least this is the perception that has been taking roots among people in Punjab.
This includes what a section of the Congress MLAs maintain is soft-pedalling of the Bargari sacrilege issue that is not making any progress now. Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa had challenged Capt Amarinder Singh on this issue. The Chief Minister opted for appeasement policy by appointing six of these MLAs as his advisers. But then it is a government on contract in which these advisers would have little role.
It is now too well known that Pakistan has been playing the Sikh card in a very subtle way under the cover of Kartarpur Sahib corridor. Pakistan might emerge as centre of religio-political narrative for Sikh Diaspora over the years. The demand for Sikh homeland is again gaining ground among the Diaspora for some time and India has banned the Sikhs for Justice that otherwise has no base in Punjab.
Bajwa said they had no issue regarding the service charge. He also proposed that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee should provide subsidy to the devotees from the weaker sections.
He disclosed that Pakistan had hinted at providing the corridor when the Sikh devotees had visited Pakistan to celebrate Gurpurab of Guru Nanak in 2000. The Kartarpur Sahib corridor leaders had met Pakistan leaders in 2005 on this very issue after which it was taken up with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa had even proposed to Dr Manmohan Singh to facilitate transfer of Kartarpur Sahib land with Pakistan the way Hussainiwala was exchanged. Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his associates were cremated at Hussainiwala.
These leaders maintain that a longstanding demand is now getting realised and none should create any hurdle by raising such non-issues like service charge.
But then Sangh Parivar has its own political line. Capt Amarinder Singh is now echoing the same.
September 20, 2019
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