Chandigarh, July 21 (IANS) A political tug-of war over taking credit for the crucial 4.2-km-long Kartarpur Sahib corridor, which on completion will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily to pay obeisance at the revered Sikh shrine in Pakistan from India, is on.
The main 'war' is between the Punjab ruling Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combine as it has been a long-pending demand, mainly by the Sikhs, to open a corridor to allow pilgrims to enter Pakistan freely and visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Narowal district.
The holiest shrine is built at the resting place of Guru Nanak Dev where he spent his last 18 years and died in 1539.
Appreciating Pakistan's decision to scrap the separate permit system required for pilgrims to travel through the Kartarpur Sahib corridor and allow Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has demanded waiver of passport to facilitate travel of devotees from the rural areas.
Singh hoped that the Indian government would press Pakistan to accept other demands, being raised by him over the past several months.
These demands include raising of the limit imposed by Islamabad on the number of pilgrims a day to enable ‘khulle darshan' to mark the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.
This was vital to ensure smooth flow of pilgrims on important days during the celebrations in November, he said.
Pakistan on July 14 agreed to allow 5,000 devotees a day against its original proposal of 500.
Amarinder Singh said the number is needed to be raised further, at least on special occasions, in view of the huge demand for permissions expected to come from Sikhs and other devotees from across the world.
He also thanked the Indian government for persuading Islamabad to accede to his request for passage of pilgrims on all seven days of the week.
The historic corridor would not serve its full potential unless Pakistan agreed to be more flexible on issues raised by him to enable pilgrims visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, he said.
The Chief Minister reiterated his demand for a special package from the Indian government to make the celebrations truly historic and befitting.
Taking claim for fulfilling demand for 70 years of devotees, especially the Sikhs, for the laying of the corridor, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President Sukhbir Singh Badal last month called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
He thanked him for taking up speedy construction of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor as well as addressing vital and long-standing issues of Sikhs.
He said the Central government had expeditiously started work on a world class and state-of-the-art passenger terminal building complex as well as an all-weather bridge on the Ravi river to facilitate unrestricted and easy flow of pilgrims.
The Kartarpur Sahib corridor, a gateway for pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, links India's Dera Baba Nanak shrine in the Gurdaspur district with Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan's Punjab province where Guru Nanak Dev spent his final days.
It was owing to voicing concerns time and again by Amarinder Singh over the presence of supporters of the Sikh separatist Khalistan movement in a committee constituted by Pakistan to look into the arrangements for the corridor construction that they were removed, a senior Cabinet minister, who didn't wish to be identified, told IANS.
Challenging him, Badal said on his insistence Pakistan agreed to permit and facilitate ‘nagar kirtans' from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan and that to be organised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.
The government of India approved development of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor project on November 22, 2018 and the foundation stone was laid by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu on November 26.
The Ministry of External Affairs said on July 14 that India has made significant progress to build a state-of-the-art infrastructure, including a passenger terminal, on the Indian side that can handle over 15,000 pilgrims per day. It is targeted to be completed by October 31.
The work on the four-lane highway to the crossing point at the international boundary is progressing satisfactorily and is on schedule.
The construction of the 4.2-km-long corridor will be over by end of September, well before the anniversary celebrations in India and Pakistan.
A large portion of the corridor falls in Pakistan's territory.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at email@example.com)
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