Kartarpur Corridor: A Bhindranwale redux

Kartarpur is the place where the first Guru of Sikhs, Guru Nanak, spent his time after returning from his journeys to various places of religious importance.

The place and the Gurudwara assumes significance as Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life at this place which is just about six kilometres from Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side.

Kartarpur today stands in Narowal district of Pakistani Punjab. The Gurudwara was built by the devotees in 1539 CE to commemorate the place where Nanak breathed his last. The Gurudwara is one of the holiest shrines of Sikhism and an important centre of Sikh pilgrimage in Pakistan. The present structure was enhanced by a liberal donation of Rs 1,35000 by Maharaja Bhupindar Singh of Patiala. The govt of Pakistan repaired the Gurudwara in 1995 and a complete renovation was done by the Pakistan Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Samiti in 2004.

Kartarpur is in news because of an unprecedented decision taken by BJP govt to allow a Corridor for visitors from international border on the Indian side to Kartarpur in Pakistan. Politics over Kartarpur Corridor isn’t new. The visa free entry of Sikh pilgrims from India was offered by Pakistan govt in 2000 however, the Indian government refused this offer citing Cross Border Terrorism being perpetrated by Pakistan.

In 2017, NDA government once again rejected the Pakistani offer. Recently, Congress MLA and Minister, former Indian cricketer Navjot Sidhu visited Pakistan on the Swearing In ceremony of Imran Khan and raised the opening of Kartarpur Corridor. The Pakistani govt was more than prompt in responding to this request by Sidhu.

In such a scenario NDA ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal felt that it was left out in the bargain and Navjot Sidhu has hijacked the important Panthic Vote in Punjab. The traditional Akali support has been the rural population among Sikhs which sees this opening up of Corridor as one of the fulfillment of Sikhism.

Narendra Modi government had refused to provide the Corridor in 2017 but under political compulsion and electoral arithmetic besides, the straining ties with SAD made the government agree to this historic decision.

Leaving the Credit Taking business aside, the capitulation of BJP Government to this blatant blackmail by the likes of Sidhu portend dangerous repercussions to the Internal Security apparatus in the country.

The opening of Corridor per se doesn’t mean anything but the ceremony on the Pakistani side which was presided by the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was an eye opener. It had among others, the COAS of Pakistan Army, Gen Qamar Bajwa, the de facto Power in Pakistan as also the PSGPC Chief Gopal Singh Chawla, an avowed Khalistani and a virulent anti India element, so was the so called Prime Minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Surprisingly, Narendra Modi government also obliged, not to be outdone by Sidhu, it dispatched two of its cabinet ministers, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri to the ceremony at Kartarpur. The ministers are guilty by omission as they continued their stay in spite of presence of likes of Chawla. Sidhu, who was asked by the Punjab CM, Capt Amarinder Singh not to go is guilty of Commission by posing with Chawla.

Sidhu it seems is backed by anti Amarinder elements in the Congress Party who wants to project him as an alternative by pandering to the radical elements in Sikh society. Pakistan, which is feeling the heat in Kashmir is trying its old politics of Khalistan which died a natural death as it lost its zeal.

Pakistan after losing the battle of perception in its fight against Terrorism is almost a Global Pariah, its record is less than encouraging and with the US along with its allies breathing down the Pakistani neck, Imran Khan is in more than a spot of bother.

US has stopped $3 billion in aid to Pakistan in the year 2018 and is mulling further cuts in aid.

Faith cannot decide the manner in which the internal and external affairs of a sovereign state are to be conducted. BJP made a mess of its politics to woo the Radical Sikh elements in Punjab with 2019 General Elections looming large on the horizon. BJP to placate its ally Akali Dal has tread this dangerous path of appeasement of radicals.

A sense of Déjà vu prevails with respect to opening of Kartarpur Corridor, it is fraught with dangerous possibilities of Pakistan once again playing with smouldering fires still burning in Punjabi hinterland with support from Sikh elements in Canada and the USA. Pakistan cannot be trusted with any sincerity in matters of security and India should not have granted any concessions even under the garb of Faith.

The opening of Corridor is the bridge that has all the potential to reignite the fires which burned down Punjab in the 80s. The fires have subsided but haven’t died down, Pakistan in recent years has been trying very hard to stoke Khalistani elements into action.

Indira Gandhi had miscalculated when she propped up Bhindranwale to counter the Akalis in Punjab. She created a Frankenstein who had to be killed but not before he successfully radicalised the Sikhs in a way not seen in independent India. Operation Blue Star still rankles the Sikh community, it led to unrest even among the Armed Forces, where sections of Sikh troops mutinied.

The Sikh militancy dragged Punjab to its lowest in terms of industrial development, the missing Punjabi on the sports podiums was a constant factor visible even to a layman, an entire generation was lost to militancy. And it just wasn’t militancy alone, Pakistan further destroyed the State by pushing in drugs easily available from its Strategic Depth partner, Afghanistan, Punjab became part of the international drug trade, a transit point for onward journey to Bombay. Not all consignments went to Bombay, it created a market in Punjab itself, the effects of drugs in Punjab is so endemic that it will require a super human effort to eradicate this menace.

The last assembly election was fought entirely on the issue of rampant drug abuse by the Youth. All parties are complicit in ignoring the perils of the abuse of drugs in Punjab.

BJP and Akalis may have won a small prize by the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, they may have earned some brownie points with the Radical Sikh elements, they may even have been seen as reciprocal to the overtures by the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, but the fact that Pakistan cannot be trusted is written in stone.

Whenever, there’s been a way forward to normalise relations, everything comes undone by the so called Deep State, obliquely referred to the Pakistan Army. No civilian Prime Minister in Pakistan can sing his own tune unless the COAS allows him. The entire Kartarpur Corridor episode has the fingerprints of a larger devious design by the Army in Pakistan. Its perceived failure in Kashmir, its inability to control the things in Afghanistan and its own restive tribal regions has forced the Deep State in Pakistan to look for other similar endeavours to reimpose the writ of the Armed Forces in deciding the trajectory of its future politics.

Surprisingly, Modi government has taken the bite when it is amply clear from the shenanigans of the opening ceremony that it was anything but a gesture of genuine respect for Sikh Faith. 

Hope, the hoopla over this dies down and a more mature insight would bring things out in a different light. Modi at the helm of affairs has shown remarkable discerning abilities in matters of foreign affairs as well as geopolitical alignments, maybe there’s something here which missed the eye.

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