KARTARPUR CORRIDOR: CONUNDRUM OF RELIGION FOR PEACE AND TRICKY REALITY FOR SIKHS

PART – I

INTRODUCTORY

THE TRIGGER

The development started out innocuously in August 2018. Navjot Singh Sidhu, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, old cricketing rivals on field and friends off field of Imran Khan, Pakistan Prime Minister elect, got personal invite to his swearing in ceremony. India’s relations with Pakistan were always iffy but at that moment were almost at their lowest. There were calls by BJP that accepting Imran’s invite would be an anti-national act but Sidhu stayed steadfast and accepted the invitation. The news about Pakistani willingness to allow a corridor for visa-less travel to Sikh pilgrims to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur came out during that ceremony. After the Pakistan Government’s announcement, the Indian Cabinet approval was prompt[1] and that set the ball rolling.

From the start while Sikhs were happy that their long awaited quest for ease of access was at last likely to get addressed, the reactions saw the announcements by the two governments as a sign of possibility of thaw in Indo-Pak tensions. Even though the political situation continued unevenly, the project kept its pace. Its foundation stone was laid on Indian side on 26th Nov. 2018 and two days later on the Pakistan side. The completed corridor was inaugurated by the two PMs on their respective sides on 9th Nov. 2019 in time for Guru Nanak’s 550th on 12th Nov. 2019.

The Punjab Assembly held a special session on 6th Nov. 2019 to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and the oncoming inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor. India’s Vice President addressing the session expressed the hope that Kartarpur Corridor will be a shrine of peace, harmony and humanism to contribute to realization of Guru Nanak’s universal vision of world as one family. Dr Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, said that “Peace and harmony is the only way forward to ensure a prosperous future. The Kartarpur model may be replicated in the future too as a lasting resolution of conflicts”. [2]

Proceeding from the above contextual frame and taking into account the views and comments as reported by the media, we will try to understand how even when the intent may be laudable and expectations very honorable, there could be complexities that may impede a project like this in attaining either the peace dividend that is hoped by the political class or the promise of religious and cultural fulfillment that the devotees might be seeking. In the process, using a construct of Kartarpur Model as it played out, we will try and develop a more likely replicable model that may be used elsewhere as a step to resolve intractable issues.  

KARTARPUR: A HISTORICAL SNAPSHOT

Kartarpur, located on the West side of River in Punjab, now in Pakistan, was founded by Guru Nanak and he spent the last 18 years of his life as a householder in that hamlet. As Sikhs moved in to join the community, a sarai was built along with a meeting room for the sangat to gather to listen to kirtan and Guru’s discourses. It was in this city that Guru Nanak gave Lehna the name Angad as he named him his successor. He also handed over a pothi of hymns to Angad. Thus the Kartarpur abode of Guru Nanak became the first centre set up by Sikh Gurus and the sangat there came to epitomize the model for Sikh congregation on which the institutional edifice of the Sikh religious institutions was built by later Gurus.

The Guru’s following was from both Hindu and Muslim faiths and after his passing both claimed him and raised two shrines, separated by a wall, in his memory. Sikh Wiki records that river Ravi washed away the original abode of the Guru and his son, Baba Sri Chand living across Ravi, had ashes of Guru Nanak ‘salvaged and reinterred close to the well of Ajitta Randhava, a devotee of the late Guru, and built a mud hut over it. The place came to be revered as a dehri or samadhi of Guru Nanak around which the present town of Dera Baba Nanak grew.’[3]

Later in 1572, the foundation of the gurudwara in Kartarpur was laid and its dome covered with gold by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The present structure was built by Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala in 1925.[4] During the 1947 partition, the new international boundary placed Kartarpur in Pakistan territory and Dera Baba Nanak in India.

Along with other Gurdwaras left in Pakistan, the Kartarpur Gurdwara remained closed after the divide of 1947. Since Sikhs had started asking for easy access to the Gurdwara, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promised to approach the Pakistan government for Kartarpur to be made part of India in exchange for land elsewhere. Nothing happened. In 1998 a border opening for transit to Kartarpur was discussed by the PMs Bajpai and Nawaz Sharif of India and Pakistan respectively but no headway was made. Gurdwara however was repaired by the Pakistan government and reopened in September 2004 – after 57 years of being closed.

WHAT HAD TRANSPIRED

Subsequent to the 1947 partition, practically no Sikhs remained in West Punjab and Gurdwaras were left unattended. The loss of some of the most sacred religious sites and important historical and cultural legacy, had caused deep trauma to Sikhs. The Sikh religious leadership decided to memorialize the loss by adding a Para to the text of ritual Sikh supplication [Ardas], seeking the divine blessing for ease of access and opportunity to serve and take care of the holy sites from which Sikhs had been separated [as a result of the partition]. This supplication has been ritually made thousands of times every day by Sikhs across the globe since then.  

The lack of access was not an issue prior to 1947 because all the important Sikh sites were in the British jurisdiction and before that these were part of the Sikh Empire under Ranjit Singh. After partition, not only because of en masse exodus of Sikhs particularly from West Punjab but also due to accessibility to Sikhs in India getting severely restricted because the two countries got embroiled in an undeclared war within months of the end of the British rule and this condition has only got worse over time with no signs of any break in their frayed relations.

The tensions led to the Indian intervention that ended up with East Pakistan breaking away and formation of Bangladesh. The hostilities picked up in the 80’s using non state actors cross over into J&K to mobilize local unrest which later turned into more daring terror attacks on targets in India including the Parliament House in New Delhi [2001], Akshardham temple in Gandhidham [2002] and the city of Bombay [2008] by suicide squads. The year 2019 could have been the one of the worst with Indo-Pak tensions hitting a peak. The power play of two unbending contestants brings to mind Guru Nanak’s reflections half a millennium earlier, written during his years at the town of Kartarpur. We are sharing it for its instructive value in conflict situations.

A BABURVANI REFLECTION

Guru Nanak had witnessed the dissipative ways of ruling elite in contrasting lap of abundance and luxury, unmindful of their responsibilities towards the security of the country and well being of the people. It was in this kind of scenario, during the Guru’s stay at Kartarpur, that Babur had appeared on the Indian horizon as a powerful invader. The Guru witnessed havoc that Babur’s troops unleashed, particularly on the women, who were carried away as war booty. Guru Nanak was deeply touched and penned four compositions, known as ‘Baburvani’ that reflect on the cataclysmic events from the perspective of divine play in an environment of human failings with its effects on society’s peace and harmony[5]  – a scenario that likely can replay in conflict zones if no tangible steps get initiated to catalyze move towards peace.

The Baburvani texts remind us of the conflict types and the import of human response as Guru Nanak then divined by saying:  karathaa thoo(n) sabhanaa kaa soee jae sakathaa sakathae ko maarae thaa man ros n hoee –rehaao- sakathaa seehu maarae pai vagai khasamaisaa purasaaee  rathan vigaarr vigoeae kutha(n)aee mueiaa saar n kaaee aapae jorr vishhorrae aapae vaekh thaeree vaddiaaee – [extract from Asa M I, p. 360].

In the above text the Guru, invoking the divine attributes of the one shared Creator of all beings, relates two scenarios of conflict – seen by him not as diverse temporal manifestations but as the reflection of different facets of play of the divine will. One type of contest he mentions involves two powerful belligerent parties, and the other where a powerful party attacks and mauls a weak and defenseless opponent.  

With our confined motive, we will limit ourselves to a brief discussion of only the first typology that relates to a contest between matched opponents.

Matched Contest Typology

In this scenario where a powerful entity attacks another powerful entity, the Guru is saying:  jae sakathaa sakathae ko maarae thaa man ros n hoee -a succinct yet telling comment on conflict between two saktas – deemed invincible. Significantly this text is part of rehao pankti and thus could be interpreted as the more defining or central character of the societal conflict dynamic between two all powerful adversaries.

The key term sakta is derived from shakti literally meaning power. This term has been used by Guru Nanak for God in his bani and therefore should not suggest judgmental connotation about any party. Within that frame, this typology could apply in two situations: one, at the micro level, when two well endowed saktas contest within the course of a competitive setting. This situation is a common occurrence and invariably does not provoke ros [resentment] to arise and examples of competitors as good friends are not hard to find – Imran Khan and Kapil Dev or Navjot Sidhu coming readily to mind.[6]

The other possibility in this category is the one using destructive means to force the opponent to submit to the more powerful contender. Limiting to confrontation using force to oust adversary community, the 1947 experience on both sides of the border in Punjab can be an example of this typology. It was a bitter fight to avenge the suffering of co-religionists on the other side but the ros dissipated on both sides soon enough and has stayed that way.  

Since our quest here is related to the Indo-Pak situation, the tensions between these two nuclear armed adversaries seem to fit the jae saktaa saktae ko maarae typology eminently but is the ros absent here? On the surface if we go by the muscular assertions by the leadership on both sides and the frenzied media fights, the absence of ros would seem a myth.

But it may not be that way. My sense is that both the countries are still to heal from the trauma of 1947 partition, coalesce to a collective vision of national identity and pull the population together as cultured, aspiring, and optimistic and forward looking people and start nation building process in all earnestness. This quest has been getting hampered in both the countries by distracting and damaging effects of continuing conflict. At the people level, therefore, while feelings for security of the nation retain paramount position, peace overtures by the leadership, too, are not decried by the public. Instead as we have seen there is groundswell of support for efforts at creating a thaw in the neighborly relations. These are pointers to the possibility that underlying the drumbeats of jingoistic slogans, there is a longing for the romanticized vision of togetherness associated with the composite culture of this region that can subsume ros of the past memories. 

FAST FORWARD TO NOW

On this hopeful note, we transit to the present and find that the Indo-Pak differences did not ever get close to any resolution. The tensions have been getting aggravated by multiple problems – the main being the Kashmir problem that has been triggering clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces at the LOC in J & K and at a few places across the international borders. Both countries have lived with closed and heavily guarded borders all these decades. Within the two countries, the narrative of tradition inspired invincibility has been conflated with nationalistic pride, which has made accommodation on ideological plane almost impossible.    

This is worrisome because both the sides have nuclear arms and establishments that are deeply suspicious of the intent of each other. The Indo-Pak region thus is seen by some security experts as one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. Efforts by the UN have not been able to make any headway. Simla agreement[7] did not help as most of the time[L1] , with unabated terror acts, India did not even agree to enter into a dialogue for peace.

Thus while peace has eluded, there is also realization on both sides that full-fledged war between the nuclear powered opponents could lead to massive destruction and yet not resolve differences that separate them. The choices therefore are stark. This state of diminishing hope lies at the back of reasons that make symbolic initiatives like Kartarpur Corridor accord seem like a call from the beyond to the warring neighbors to cool tempers for their own good.

So one does wonder if it may be a play of will divine that in August 2018 during swearing in of Imran Khan, Pakistan Army Chief mentioned in conversation with Sidhu of their willingness to open the Dera Baba Nanak–Kartarpur corridor on 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The rest is history as all the negatives kept getting out of the way and the Corridor was inaugurated on 9 November 2019, by Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on their respective sides to the wonder of a still skeptical global community.

LOCATING SIKH ENGAGEMENT IN INDO-PAK MATRIX

We thus see Sikhs wrapped up in the layers of the Indo-Pak matrix as it evolved before and since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. I was 16 when we crossed over to India in late August 1947. It was a traumatic separation but my parents, no doubt nostalgic, talked of old times but never got an opportunity to visit Pakistan. It was hard – not because of just being displaced, that was soon reconstructed but because of a felt loss being Sikhs. 

After my visit in 2004 as part of an interfaith group of scholars from the US to grasp emerging phenomenon of Radical Islam, my take on the dilemmas affecting Pakistan-Sikh engagement came round to the view that while there was a need for the Sikhs to engage with Pakistan, the primary focus of Pakistani engagement in the post 9/11 world was and had to be Judeo-Christian West, with India as a secondary focus in view of their continuing low level conflict that was draining both. The Sikh engagement need, which did not seem to concern India, Pakistan or the US, therefore could come in at the tertiary level and given their political position, operate within the constraints set by the primary and the secondary drivers. In my mind there was a clear recognition that proactive Sikh engagement with Pakistan was not an option.

My related inference nonetheless was that Indian Sikhs will always have to be neighbors, across the border, with a vibrant segment of Pakistani Muslims with their worldview and perception of the Sikhs. In the same strain, for Sikhs given their geo-political situation, Muslim world mainly will be Pakistan and the Muslim opinion that may impact them the most would be the Pakistani orientation. As such even though this recognition may not be evident in Sikh thinking, some kind of neighborly engagement should be in their long-term interest.[8]

 UNSEEN PAKISTANI SIKH COMMUNITY EVOLVING

In the midst of all these developments, is the small unseen Sikh community in Pakistan that is on its way likely to see an increase in their visibility and perhaps far more significantly to enhance their responsible involvement with Pakistan civil society, with the global Sikh community as also with the Pakistani outreach to Sikhs and India.   

Sikhs, though now a small minority, prior to 1947 partition, were an important part of region’s community, cultural mosaic and economy. They also had a proud heritage and history in having been dominant political force in 18th and 19th centuries when they set up Sikh rule with Lahore as capital – last to be annexed by the British in 1849.

After partition, Sikh population in Pakistan reduced to a microscopic minority – that too only in the tribal area of Swat. Gurdwaras, including the historical Sikh shrines, were closed down. It was only after an agreement arrived at between the governments of India and Pakistan that Sikh pilgrims from India were able to visit Gurdwaras Janam Asthan, Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib and the Samadh Maharaja Ranjit Singh on birthday of Guru Nanak, Baisakhi, martyrdom day of Guru Arjun and death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The SGPC granthis, sewadars and ragis at gurdwaras Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib before Partition, were also given permission to be posted there to perform religious service but after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, their visas were not renewed by Pakistan Government.

During 1979, a delegation led by Gurcharan Singh Tohra, SGPC president met the President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq and requested for revival of the practice of posting SGPC staff at the three Gurdwaras. General Zia instead suggested that he was prepared to send Pakistani Sikhs to India for being imparted training in maryada in the Gurdwaras so that they could perform this service on their own. Nothing happened.

General Zia persuaded about 50 Pakistani Sikhs to shift from Swat to Nankana Sahib. Some were employed to assist the Waqf Board to run Gurdwara affairs. Sikh youth were trained in maryada and participated in religious functions organized by visiting Sikh pilgrims and learnt to look after the Sikh shrines in Pakistan. The Sikh population in Nanakana Sahib also grew over time and the Sikh youth in Punjab, with better education, have begun to engage with Pakistani mainstream in diverse fields and getting noticed. Guru Nanak Model School, Nankana Sahib, set up in 1999, has around 150 Sikh students.

Karachi has approximately 2500 Sikhs. Total Sikh population in Sindh is around 6,000. In Balochistan it is close to 2500 and Punjab 5000. In the North West Frontier Province [NWFP], the estimated population of Sikhs is 10,000 including tribal areas. Many Sikhs had moved into NWFP from Afghanistan after Taliban takeover. Total Sikh population in Pakistan is placed at around 20,000. 

In the last two decades, some Sikh youth have got College education and six decades after 1947, some firsts have been achieved by them – the first Sikh Lawyer, MBA, Doctor, Army Officer, Police Inspector![9] Many youth follow the traditional hakeem vocation and some are employed as Gurdwara sewadars. They are dispersed and isolated and trying to lift their coming generations out of the poverty and isolation trap

There is a small Pakistani Sikh Diaspora, mainly in the UK & Canada. According to the 2001 census, there were 346 Pakistani Sikhs in the UK. There also is a small Pakistani Sikh expatriate community in the United Arab Emirates. Not much is known about their progress in the Diaspora societies – we have known a sehjdhari Sikh family in Central PA from Sindh, Pakistan.

The Gurdwaras in Pakistan have remained under the control of the Evacuee Trust Property Board [ETPB] that controls all evacuee properties in Pakistan. In April 1999, the ETBP set up Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee [PSGPC] to represent Sikh community, take care of and protect the Sikh holy sites and heritage in Pakistan. PSGPC is not independent nor does it have the wherewithal to be independent. Added to that, SGPC and PSGPC have usual legacy issues, PSGPC disagreed with Akal Takht on Nanakshahi calendar. 

In response to the growing tide of global Sikh nostalgia, Pakistan is reopening more Gurdwaras with promises of art galleries and university with very small Pakistani Sikh donations or resource pool. Kartarpur Corridor is addition to those initiatives and would no doubt stretch the extremely scarce Pakistani Sikh resources.

THE SIKH-MUSLIM HISTORICAL MEMORY     

Pakistani Muslims and Sikhs share a lot of nostalgic memories, yet their historical memory of one another was not great. Sikhs envision the Muslim rule as oppressive and unjust. Pakistani historians are candid about jihad against Sikh rule and support given to the British to destabilize the Sikh kingdom.[10] Pakistan continues to downplay its rich Sikh heritage and the memorabilia about Sikh rule in their literature, Museums and historical sites. Pakistani stereotypes for Sikhs are not flattering.

The 1947 division was cumulative outcome of the persistent mistrust between Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other. A collateral effect of the partition seems to have been to free Sikhs from the haunting historical memories of being hunted by Muslim rulers, reducing the underlying Sikh sense of hostility against Muslims. This has helped Sikh interface with Muslims to turn into a neutral mode. Diaspora Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims are rediscovering the bond of Punjabi cultural legacy, pushing the lingering problems of partition into the realm of South Asian regional politics.[11]

Separation trauma experienced by Sikhs in 1947 was more about fracturing of support systems. Its intensity has dissipated as migrant Sikhs rebuilt their lives and social support systems anew. Sikhs declare their faith to have originated in India, follow developments in India with sense of involvement and are dynamically linked with Sikh Religious Institutions which are all based in India. Sikh linkage with India thus has a strong emotional and religious connect. At the same time Sikhs tend to be politically independent minded and make choices as they deem fit without noticeable monolithic tendencies.  

India has continued to give entry to returning Persons of Indian Origin [PIO] and those who hold Overseas Citizens of India [OCI] cards, can live and work in India but will not be allowed voting rights till they are naturalized as citizens again. By this concession India has developed a huge Diaspora that has been acting to their advantage.

The Sikh-Pakistan connection is different. Pakistan is the country where Guru Nanak was born and early institutions of Sikh faith were developed. SGGS uses a lot of dialects from those areas. In actual fact, a significant part of heritage of Sikhi and most of the heritage of the Sikh Raj is in Pakistan. Added to this is the resurgent cultural bond of Punjabiyat.

PART – II

SPIRIT, FALL OF A WALL, MODEL, PEACE CORRIDOR?

KARTARPUR INAUGURATED: THE MESSAGES SENT OUT

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, invoked Guru Nanak but drifted to compare the decision for creation of the corridor to the fall of Berlin Wall in that the project may help ease tensions between the two states at loggerheads from their inception. He also thanked Pakistan Prime Minister[12] for ‘respecting the sentiments of India. The opening of Kartarpur Sahib corridor before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji has brought us immense happiness’ thus asserting that the longing for the corridor was sentiment of India and not of Sikhs alone.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was candid to admit the he did not know anything about Kartarpur a year back but said that “Pakistan believes that the road to prosperity of region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, and that Pakistan “is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community.” So opening of corridor may bring peace, prosperity and bright future to the region and Pakistan was opening their hearts to Sikh community. He was addressing India for prosperity through peace and extending invite to global Sikh community.

Pakistan’s foreign minister said that the corridor has given Pakistan a lot of goodwill in the Sikh community. Pakistan decided to continue with the Kartarpur Spirit as a goodwill gesture despite India not giving similar response. He compared the opening of corridor to fall of the Berlin Wall, which changed the face of Europe. Kartarpur can change the face of South Asia[13].

The US saw the Corridor as a positive example of neighbors working together for their mutual benefit.[14] A simple transaction based on mutuality of interest of neighbors, not motivated as a giveaway to Sikhs.

The UN secretary general’s spokesperson welcomed facilitating visa-free cross border visits by pilgrims by use of Corridor as way for interfaith harmony and understanding – the only message to reflect on the raison d’être – the Sikh longing!  

The response of Sikhs was euphoric. Rajmeet Singh, Tribune News Service, part of the first jatha to walk through the corridor felt an upsurge of emotions was all pervasive – divine aura of Guru Nanak was at play – some walked up to immigration terminal, chanting hymns. Playing perfect host, Pakistan PM Imran Khan travelled up to the immigration terminal – devotees awestruck by quality makeover given to the shrine – the four acre shrine premises now is 42 acres, with 3.5 lakh sq ft white marble flooring around the main complex – Navjot Sidhu was mobbed, everyone including Imran Khan crediting him for the initiative – as clock struck 5 pm it was time to return – one of the most memorable days in lives of all who were there![15] “It is like a dream come true. The Pakistani government fulfilled its pledge to Sikh community in a short period. It is a mega project. Such a huge project has never been accomplished in such a short time in Pakistan’s history,” Gobind Singh[16], Granthi of Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, told DW.

At the last minute all controversies dissolved. CM Amrinder Singh called off the simultaneous event by the state with the PM’s event and the PM Modi passed the charge to lead the first jatha from India to Jathedar Akal Takht with ex PM Manmohan Singh, CM Amrinder Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu and over 500 others following! The spirit of peace and love divine that the Guru epitomized had pervaded the hearts of one and all.[17]

Everything came around seamlessly as if the divine hand was guiding it all. Sikhs were ecstatic and thankful. They had to be for so much was done by the two countries to fulfill a Sikh longing and their leaders were citing Kartarpur Model and Kartarpur Spirit as the way to contain conflict and usher in peace and prosperity for mutual benefit!    

NOT SO FAST: WORDS OF CAUTION!

From this euphoric pitch, we want to now turn to the notes of caution about the intent and likely difficulties in the peace process that have been expressed on both the sides.

Captain Amrinder Singh, the CM of Punjab has been persistently mistrustful of Pakistani intent. He has maintained that the project is supported by Pakistan IS establishment and it cannot but be an instrument to disturb peace and harmony prevailing in Punjab and promote terrorist activities along the international border in the state. Similar views have been expressed by some experts on security issues in India.

Over three weeks after the inauguration of the Corridor, Pakistan Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, said to be close to Pakistan PM, has told reporters[18] that “Gen Bajwa strongly hit India by opening the corridor. Through this project, Pakistan has created a new environment of peace and won itself love of the Sikh community.” He also added that General Bajwa did not attend the Kartarpur Corridor’s opening ceremony apparently to avoid any controversy. The statement by Minister Rashid tends to support apprehensions on Indian side.

With euphoria tempered by cautionary as well as threatening voices, turning to look at the core messages, feelings, hopes and expressions that the Kartarpur Corridor has evoked may give us a more balanced perspective.

CATCHING KARTARPUR SPIRIT

The term Kartarpur Spirit has been used by FM Qureshi of Pakistan. We had earlier summarized his stated message as: The corridor has given Pakistan a lot of goodwill in the Sikh community. Pakistan decided to continue with the Kartarpur Spirit as a goodwill gesture despite India not giving similar response. He compared the opening of corridor to fall of Berlin Wall, which had changed the face of Europe. Kartarpur can likewise change the face of South Asia.

The above statement has three components, viz.

  • Pakistan continued Kartarpur Spirit as goodwill gesture despite no response from India
  • It has Pakistan given goodwill in Sikh community
  • Opening corridor likened to fall of Berlin Wall

Kartarpur Spirit thus seems to be an abstraction for Pakistan’s goodwill gesture to India. Pakistan continued the goodwill despite lack of India’s reciprocity. So while Pakistan was trying to woo a reluctant India to show reciprocity, it instead earned a lot of goodwill among Sikhs who were rooting for the corridor.

This triangular dynamic became obvious as the project progressed and its recognition resonates in what the two PMs said on inauguration. So the Kartarpur Spirit in fact was a euphemism for Pakistan catching India’s sentiment and opening its heart to Sikhs – both incidental to a Sikh religious longing on the 550th of Guru Nanak – a win for all!

BERLIN WALL ANALOGY

Both PM Modi and FM Qureshi have invoked the example of the fall of Berlin Wall during their speeches when talking of the Corridor. While PM Modi alluded to creation of corridor to the fall of Berlin Wall in that the project may help ease tensions, FM Qureshi said[19] ‘If in our time, Berlin Wall could fall, the map of Europe changed, Kartarpur corridor opened, then the line of control dynamics can also be changed. Peace can also be initiated. He had also said in 2005[20] that one day border would be irrelevant and Pakistan and India will become one, “like the two Germanies”.

The Kartarpur events were covered by International media. One would therefore be inclined to believe that neither Modi nor Qureshi was using Berlin Wall as a jumla – a metaphor only, not intended. It is expected that both of them would be familiar with the implications inherent in the changes that fall of Berlin Wall set off 30 years earlier to the day on November 9, 1989. The backgrounds of both the leaders are impressive. Narendra Modi is product of the RSS grooming and in his speeches as well as dealings with foreign Heads of State has displayed understanding of the diverse forces at work in both the national and international spheres. His group of advisers would no doubt be familiar with the breadth and depth of fundamental changes that fall of Berlin Wall had led to in East Europe. Shah Mehmood Qureshi hails from an influential Sufi family of Multan, went to school at Aitcheson College, BA from Forman Christian College, followed by Graduate degrees in Law and History from Cambridge.  He is Sajjada Nashin of the dargah of Bahauddin Zakariya, entered politics in mid 1980s and has been Pakistan’s Foreign Minister twice. That he has expressed similar views earlier, should be confirmatory of his meaning what he said about the fall of Berlin wall.

With the above background, the question that comes up is if they both are indicating that after over 70 years of dithering trying to make the model created in 1947 to work for good of people of both the countries, it is time the sub continent now introduces mega changes like the historic fall of Berlin Wall did for Europe to ease tensions in the region and change its face using the ubiquitous Kartarpur Corridor initiative!

The intent of the two leaders and their governments therefore should be explored further for specific changes to initiate with Kartarpur Corridor as catalyst, that eventually help bring peace and prosperity to the South Asia region, as the fall of Berlin Wall[21]did to countries in Europe.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi[22] infers that PM Modi’s recall of Corridor as dismantling of Berlin Wall was both historical and contemporary. His argument is that the policy by enunciated by PM I.K. Gujral to base relations with Pakistan on reciprocity evolved into the well known concept of composite dialogue which included ‘promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields’ and thus placed mutuality of interest as a reciprocity equivalent. Gandhi’s view endorses the existence of conceptual consistency among Indian leaders on the mechanics of Pakistan relations but whether they would be willing to go as far as ‘Berlin Wall fall changes’ is not a given.

REPLICATIVE KARTARPUR MODEL

As we said earlier the phrase Kartarpur Model was used by the ex-PM Manmohan Singh. If we go back in history, it was at Kartarpur that Guru Nanak had lamented at the destruction suffered at the hands of invaders[23] and now, half a millennium later the Hindustan of yore, that the Guru had loved so much, is divided into two countries that are extremely mistrustful of one another and the hope is expressed that the Kartarpur initiative playing out presently would establish a model that leads to easing of tension, bring peace and harmony for better future and prosperity to the poor and suffering people of the two countries.

Continuing our purpose is to try and grasp the essentials of paradigm that Kartarpur model may inhere. About Manmohan Singh, who was the first to use this term use of term, David Cameron, the ex British PM, had reminisced in his autobiography saying “He was a saintly man, but he was robust on the threats India faced” and that he had told Cameron in July 2011 that in the event of another terrorist attack like 2008 in Mumbai, “India would have to take military action against Pakistan.” [24]

With the history of relations between the two countries as Dr Manmohan Singh would be fully aware of, he could not have uttered the hope placed on Kartarpur Model lightly, nor would he have used this phrase as a metaphor. He is not easily swayed by euphoric emotions and thus would have perceived the Corridor that had received active involvement and support of both the Governments, to have potential to contain conflict and promote peace, harmony and prosperity in the region.

During his visit to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur as part of the first group to cross over after inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor on 9 November, 2019, Dr Manmohan Singh had told reporters from Pakistan “I hope India and Pakistan relations improve enormously as a result of this beginning. It is a big moment,” On his return to India later the same evening, he told the media, “It was a good beginning, India-Pakistan relations are subject to many buts and ifs, I hope this is a good beginning to normalize our relation.”[25] Similar sentiments underpin the messages by incumbent PMs of India and Pakistan and their predecessors consistently.

The progress of the project from the dates of initial announcements by the two Governments was not without hiccups but these kept getting resolved, albeit slowly. Notwithstanding complexity of issues in the ongoing negotiations, both the sides made empathetic concessions to accommodate Sikh requests while construction work kept pace for meeting the time deadline. 

The project also seemed to grip the attention of international community. The uniqueness of the case was that in one of the extremely troubled areas of the world, these two Governments, hardly on talking terms, were creating history by facilitating access for the devotees of a minority faith to their sacred religious site across international boundary without a formal visa. No wonder the project received global approbation!

Since Manmohan Singh expressed the hope that Kartarpur Model could be replicated in future for durable peace, we have tried to identify the leading characteristics of this model culled from what has transpired so far. The summary is presented below to facilitate conceptualization and planning of the replication process,

SITUATIONAL IMPERATIVES AS ON GROUND

Long standing unresolved issue [Kashmir] impeding progress on both sides that could cause major internal unrest or trigger violent conflict between opponents

Cannot subdue the opponent through military means, economic pressures, international channels or on moral/ethical plane

Diplomatic relations snapped

Costs turning very high but risks in proposed venture minimal

A CONSTRUCT OF MODEL BASED ON WHAT HAPPENED

  • Locate a potential benign area of agreement with manageable costs and risks [corridor[26]]
  • Ensure national interest will not be jeopardized [systemic controls]
  • Spontaneous announcement of own intent with timeline for completion [surprise]
  • Make concessions, stay steadfast on the project, earn goodwill of beneficiary and the international community, media et al [create optimism]
  • Controlled thaw management with the opponent and edge to dialogue with options that have a chance of acceptance [unsaid cooling off]
  • Internal situation kept manageable [hotheads managed]
  • If does not work, go back to drawing board, keep lessons learnt in mind [resoluteness]

The above simplistic paradigm is a construct based on what actually transpired in this case but generalized for ease of modification for specific situations or in the operation of this project itself by those involved at leadership level who hopefully would be committed and proven resolvers of knotty issues and not status quoits.

Coincidentally a possibility for replicating religious diplomacy in evidence in Katarpur Corridor has been flagged by Commodore C Uday Bhaskar in the healing and reconciliatory intervention needed in the post Ayodhya Verdict[27] situation. Bhaskar also has argued[28] that the Citizen Amendment Act case, agitation against which is currently roiling India, must be negotiated with the citizen – making another potential case for interfaith healing and intervention!

In our view the possibilities for interfaith interventions for internal religion related disputes are immense in India and it is about time that the tenor of interfaith engagement moves from surface expression of bonhomie to genuine interfaith initiatives for trying to identify the root causes and then working for their solution through whatever changes are needed. [29]

Programs intended to satisfy a societal yearning could involve considerable capital and recurring costs. In discussions relating to the Corridor, the cost element has not figured as a factor except relating to the maintenance expenses of the entry/exit facility being recovered, at least in part, by a service fee. The intent therefore is to inspire peace and harmony through reaching out to people rather than look for reciprocity, mutuality or economic benefit. That subtlety must not be lost on us when we think of replication or incremental use of this paradigm.

The same thought seems to be expressed by Grant Wyeth when he infers[30] that ‘the Kartarpur Corridor may be a small initiative to create some goodwill and ease one pressure on both states, and with success this may create the momentum to identify and sooth another problem in the future.’ So the critical factor to opt for replication is the sense of success that is discerned when the initiative is put in operation.

CORRIDOR OF PEACE ANALOGY

The Hindustan Times [HT] editorial on 12 November, 2019 recognized that on Indian side there were apprehensions and considered that getting on to negotiating table was unlikely till Pakistan takes action against terrorist leaders/groups operating from its soil. Thus in HT view, opening of the Kartarpur corridor ‘only represents a chance to dispel the pessimism by acting as a corridor of peace.’

The above editorial moderates the expectation placed on the corridor in that it discounts the hope of peace process getting started by the thaw created, but nonetheless acknowledges that it can be a trigger ‘to dispel the pessimism’ by acting as a ‘corridor of peace.’ So this joint act by both the governments to create Kartarpur corridor only brings a ray of hope to the environment of gloom that had come to prevail.

HT therefore sees the Corridor as a first response intervention. More concrete steps could follow as confidence building process starts yielding positive signs. So the Editorial seems to imply that by itself the Kartarpur corridor is neither a model nor an event akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is only an initial step to set off the peace process – its value lies principally in its symbolism of hope by lifting sense of gloom.

The Paper also mentioned that ‘Given the Pakistan Army’s role in all matters in construction of infrastructure and renovation of the Darbar Sahib, Indian government will continue to eye the corridor with caution’ – this intense mistrust is specific to the current situation and the cause of gloom and therefore has be dealt with, incrementally in manageable steps!

The CNN[31] has reported that the road link [highway corridor to temple constructed by Pakistan] is dubbed as the “corridor of peace” in local Indian and Pakistani media. This usage perhaps has devotional connotation for the Gurdwara environment invariably induces a sense of peace in the devotees. But then in a lighter vein, if the ‘drive going in’ from home is named as ‘corridor of peace’, what should the ‘corridor coming back’ home be called?!!!  

CONTRAST IN VIEWS

Before we move on to further discussion, we do want to draw the reader’s attention to cautious remarks on the Kartarpur initiative by the US and UN compared to the effusive comments by the leaders of India and Pakistan. The US welcomed the development as mutually beneficial and UN saw it to promote interfaith harmony and understanding. Readers may also notice that CNN has reported that the connecting road is termed by the local media as ‘corridor of peace.’ They have not endorsed the appellation ‘corridor of peace.’

So while the international media gave coverage to the event, it is not clear if they took it to be a ground breaking development. It gave that 15 minutes of fame to many – perhaps Sikhs got the most press but that was incidental. Obviously political leaders of India and Pakistan are looking for some way out to scale down the tensions without loss of face but they and media know that in fact the electoral calculus and orientation of the majority is important for retaining power, not the outcome of the Kartarpur initiative.

PEACE MOVES: THE MAJOR ENIGMA

We are familiar with paralysis of governments, engineered by a fringe political, religious, ethnic or cultural group from within the religious majority. Instances of creating crisis to give a push to the populist agendas are also common. In all cases, protagonists may invoke emotive historical memory or arouse national or religious indignation to sharpen public responses in direction that increases support for their intended outcome.

Such strategies are employed everywhere and India and Pakistan are no exception. In fact chasm between liberal human rights principles and ethnic, national or religious majority interests in the two countries has only grown wider because of their highly charged political environments.

In such circumstances initiatives like Kartarpur Corridor could involve high improbabilities and risks along the way and it would be tricky to read euphoric sentiment of a wind of change into it. Just below the surface, may lay a pile of prejudice, pent up hate and frustration that may surface suddenly. In fact, in Pakistan, a TV show brought out that active opposition to the initiative was already being propagated by radical Muslims and in India, the 28 reader’s comments on a news item in Tribune exposed the intensity of the Hindu unhappiness at the development.[32]

At the realistic plane, the cynicism tinged with the type of mistrust and fear that existed prior to 1947 and had led to the partition continues to survive on both sides. Pakistan had started out as a Muslim state citing fear of domination by a Hindu rule that nursed historical memory pictured by the following summary[33] “M.S. Golwalkar took over as the second and longest-serving leader of the RSS in 1940. The same year he published, ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, in which he proclaimed: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to shake off the despoilers.” He declared that “we, Hindus, are at war at once with the Moslems” who “take themselves to be the conquering invaders and grasp for power.” The “cause of our ills,” he insisted, was the day that “the Moslems first tread upon this land.” Yet Golwalkar saw a glimmer of hope, claiming that the Hindu “is rousing himself up again and the world has to see the might of the regenerated Hindu Nation strike down the enemy’s hosts with its mighty arm.”

In Pakistan a recent report[34] tells us that Islamist parties in Pakistan say that against the backdrop of Pulwama[35]in February and Article 370 abrogation[36] in August, November Kartarpur corridor opening suggests that powers larger than civil leaders of Pakistan are pushing for the corridor as Islamabad aims to build leverage and possibly promote a separatist movement in Indian Punjab. Then there was the case of reported stone pelting at Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib on 4th January, 2020 that has evoked very strong response from Sikhs and Indian government.[37] 

If the above political play continues, the real challenge for ushering in regional peace would lie in changing the prejudiced mindset of the majorities in the two countries to cooperate with peace initiatives. That is the burden of leadership and initiatives like Kartarpur Corridor may be able to help no more than supplement the efforts of leadership. The danger is that the leaders may let the initiative drift in trying to keep their electoral base energized.

PART – III

WAKING REALITY OF A SIKH LONGING

ACTUALIZATION OF LONGING

In this part we plan to explore the operative part of the Katatarpur Corridor in the fulfillment of expectations underlying the Sikh longing that the project basically set out to satisfy and addenda to this longing due to the widespread expectation of the Corridor becoming trigger for peace and harmony in the region.

The longing for Kartarpur that Sikhs have could well be summed up as cumulative memory of the loss ofeaseof connection with the Sikh religious sites in Pakistan that were locked and left unattended by the Sikhs as they evacuated en-masse from the parts expected to be separated from India, during the partition of 1947.

The sense of Sikh trauma in the above memory was at the time succinctly summed up by Sikh religious leaders by adding to Sikh ritual supplication ‘jinna sthana te gurdhama toon panth noo vichhoriaa gayaa hai unnah dae khullae darshan deedar te sewa sambhal da daan Khalsa ji nau baksho’ – grant to Khalsa the boon of unfettered access, worship and management of Gurdwaras and holy sites from which the Panth had been separated. Kartarpur was one of those Gurdwaras and sacred sites.

Carefully looked at the above supplication is not too demanding. With the small Sikh community in Pakistan slowly finding their feet and the setting up of PSGPC in 1999, in spite of the limited autonomy of PSGPC and resource pool or potential of Pakistani Sikhs to be able to care for the sacred Sikh sites in Pakistan, worship service at increasing number of sites has been introduced and the Sikh community is involved in management.

The problem therefore boils down to ease of access, more especially for Sikhs in India because, primarily, of continued Indo-Pak tenuous relations.  Otherwise Sikhs do have sacred sites in several countries and even within India that have been unattended or not managed by the Panth or may not have ease of access. The inherent connection of the longing with, more particularly, the Sikh politics of partition and its aftermath is evident 

We therefore consider that the actualization of Sikh longing cannot be complete without assured ease of access, as it is taken to be, say in Nepal though that also has been subject to vagaries of cold phases in Indo-Nepal relations, political posturing and blockades but relations did not turn hostile, nor have the Sikhs moved out of Nepal for reasons of lack of safety.

An added peculiar feature of the Kartarpur situation is that in this case the devotees from India come in for a day visit through Integrated Check Post [ICP] at Dera Baba Nanak and by the evening have to return via the ICP to Dera Baba Nanak. The entire set of systems and support mechanisms [devotee facilitation and religious services] that have been created on both sides of the border have to be coordinated across the international boundary.  We therefore propose to use the appellation ‘New Kartarpur’ for the new system created astride the border, for ease of distinguishing its administrative character.

The other factor that is getting introduced in actualization of the longing is that Kartarpur that was, has to be located in the New Kartarpur’s contemporary setting. This need has been in part created by the state of art expanded new structures, highways, facilities et al – all by Pakistan. This has to be integrated, built upon and religious services provided per the practices followed in Gurdwaras that have had similar position in Sikh memory, reverence and history.

Kartarpur was never forgotten by Sikhs but, as history unfolded, it also never got rolled into the evolving active, involved Sikh centers like Amritsar, Dera Sahib, Nanakana Sahib. Punja Sahib, Hazur Sahib, Patna Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, Sis Ganj et al. This somehow remained an anomaly that did not receive notice by Sikhs.

The fact is Kartarpur is the place where Sikhi’s form was revealed and institutionalized by Guru Nanak, including installation of his successor. As a historical similarity Khalsa was revealed at Anandpur Sahib and institutionalized as Guru Khalsa Panth along with anointing SGGS as the eternal Sikh Guru in succession to Guru Gobind Singh at Hazur Sahib. Kartarpur thus did have a special position in journey of Sikhi but stayed at the margins during all of the last 500 years. Our sense is that travails of discontinuities that Kartarpur experienced and disconnect between the two sides of the River could be incidental to this phenomenon.

Another fact that we have to take into account is that even if the hopes for regional peace and amity have been mostly articulated by Pakistani leaders and hinted at by PM Modi, Sikhs have a major stake in it not only because of their persuasion but also due to the reality that sans stable and enduring Indo-Pak working relations, Sikhs cannot take care of New Kartarpur or for that matter, their extensive heritage in Pakistan.[38]

Our premise in developing the structure for the actualization of Sikh longing for New Kartarpur therefore is intended to be sensitive to the foregoing and at the same time to take care that:

  • Firstly, while ease of access, civic and government services needed in operation and maintenance are in domain of the respective governments, the organization has ability to access agencies involved.
  • Secondly as this case would be a likely first where the Sikh community will be required to manage religious services and other devotee needs in a coordinated manner in a major historical Gurdwara in area spread over two countries. New Kartarpur therefore will need its systems and structure developed afresh.
  • Both of the above will need mechanisms to resolve problems in an environment of disruptive bitter discord.

SIKHS & THE UNFOLDING PLOT

Sikhs had had a longing. It was not articulated by them in 2018, nor did they have any inkling of what may have been happening behind the scenes, when suddenly there was lot of news for them to take in. They were hardly into the plot in any manner as the project unfolded – intents revealed and announcements made by the governments on their own and implemented under their control.

To Sikhs, Sidhu was a hero who stood steadfast to a benign friendship and on the social media he was being trolled as a traitor and worse even as the two governments continued on their inimical pronouncements but kept pushing the project along. Sikh leadership mostly watching except the State CM, who had to speak because the project was situated in Punjab.

It is possible that Sikhs left wondering, felt smug seeing that an international standard facility, beautiful connecting highways, improved travel facilities to Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur, excellent make over to the towns and Gurdwaras on either side, huge expansion of Gurdawara Darbar Sahib and its facilities and excellent press with glowing references to Guru Nanak and Sikhs being seen as the possible peace makers between the two warring neighbors – all unasked and at little or no cost. Guru seemed very generous and kind to Sikhs!

What the readers may remember is that early on SGPC had even offered that they could take on the construction of connecting corridor. That set up would have been a simple make shift road from zero point to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. It seems though that the Governments wanted world class facilities for the check posts at the border and related makeover of the towns. The confluence of the corridor inauguration and 550th of Guru Nanak with the possibility of global media coverage also influenced their decisions.

With the dates for inauguration of the Corridor and Guru Nanak’s 550th getting close, while there was clarity that inauguration would be by the PM, Sikhs did seem to be unsure if the 550th would be managed by State or Sikh Religious leadership and thus may have ended up exposing internal divide in Sikh leadership. This got papered over when on Nov 9th PM Modi handed over the flag to Giani Hardeep Singh, Jathedar Akal Takht to lead the first group of pilgrims across Kartarpur Corridor to Pakistan. This settled the leadership tussle, turned the inaugural day into an extended moment of bliss and also calmed the political brinkmanship among Sikhs.

After opening of the facility, even before the initial excitement had ebbed, the reports about a much lower foot fall than anticipated on the day after inauguration broke the illusory spell. That it was not a freak outlier became obvious in a few days of early experience.

EARLY EXPERIENCE

A month later, the Corridor had receded from the news headlines but we did get some indicators that helped in formulating a broad early assessment of how the project had taken off. During the process of governments negotiating the agreement, Sikh attention mostly was on administrative fee of $ 20 per head and the cap on daily flow of 500 devotees proposed by Pakistan. The Sikh politicians wanted the entry fee to be waived or borne by the SGPC but several states offered to subsidize it for the poor under their yatra schemes. This issue assumed more political edge when it was linked to a demand by some Sikh leaders seeking the cap to be upped to 10,000. The cap was finally settled at 5000 and Pakistan waived the entry fee on the inaugural day and on the day of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak – both days when high rush could be expected.

Within days after inauguration of the Corridor it became obvious that the footfall across it was very low. Reuter reported an immigration official saying that only 229 pilgrims had visited on November 10, 122 on November 11 and 546 on November 12 – total 897 for 3 days following inauguration including the birthday of Guru Nanak.

SGPC blamed the online registration process and asked it to be simplified. But the Newspapers reported that feedback from people placed low number of pilgrims on lack of awareness about registration process, requirement of passport and the $ 20 service fee charged by Pakistan.[39] For the first month the average came to around 500 per day – 10% of the actual cap negotiated and agreed and 5% of the demand that was initially made.

The dismal turnout upset the hosts at Kartarpur and on 24/11/19 PSGPC asserted that it is for the Indian government to ensure that the number remains reasonably high as they had demanded to allow 5,000 people on normal days against the Pakistan’s plan for 500 and it was on India’s insistence, that Pakistan government had asked PSGPC, ETPB and others involved to provide for up to 10,000 visitors on special occasions.[40]

Clearly right at the outset, the systemic glitches seemed to cloud the flood of goodwill that had been generated. It also became evident that notwithstanding how and why of the low response, the development carried the possibility of being seen as a failure of the Sikh community to have worked out a well thought out, coordinated plan for New Kartarpur. 

SGPC finally intervened to help out the devotees and set up 30 centers at historic Gurdwaras, including within Darabar Sahib area at Amritsar, to provide free help for online registration for the pilgrimage to Kartarpur[41]. They also announced intent to set up Bus ride from the Dera Baba Nanak Gurdwara Darbar Sahib to the passenger terminal of Kartarpur. Realizing that the Darbar Sahib Kartarpur did not have Ragi Pool to provide Kirtan services, SGPC also requested Central Government to seek permission from Pakistan to allow SGPC to send Ragi Jathas and Sewadars to Kartarpur on a daily basis.[42]  Later, on 19 Dec 2019, SGPC decided to launch bus service from Amritsar to Dera Baba Nanak for the pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur via the Kartarpur corridor.[43]

Another related factor that has been mentioned to be inhibiting the youth from using the corridor is that even though the passport is not stamped, the computer has record of visit to Pakistan and their fear is that it may lead to rejection of visa applications by foreign governments. This may be unfounded fear which can only be assuaged by official clarification.

Two more developments are relevant here. One was the reported attempt by a Sikh girl to meet up with her Pakistani Facebook friend using entry via the Corridor. She was missing for a couple of days before she could be traced and sent back. While the intent of a visitor cannot be read, the need to devise some mechanism and assign responsibilities with resources for ensuring that the visitors remain within the allowed areas and do return has to be considered by the Governments in consultation with the dealing Sikh bodies.

The early experience therefore suggests that there was lack of feel for the ground realities by the framers of the systems and that they had not prepared their plan in consultation with the involved stakeholders. Sikh leadership in India also did not seem to have asked the government to involve SGPC or any other Sikh organizational representative in the negotiations process in spite of the SGPC jurisdiction over Dera Baba Nanak and its critical role in operation of New Kartarpur.[44]

On the other hand, it is known that a Sikh PSGPC nominee included in Pakistan negotiating team was alleged to be pro Khalistani and because of objection by India was replaced, which conveys the impression that while the choice of person may have been flawed, PSGPC was continuously represented in Pakistan negotiation team.[45]

ON TO LOOKING FORWARD

Flowing from the above broad matrix, we will now attempt to list/describe the issues, specific to the New Kartarpur project, which would need consideration by the Sikh community. This listing is indicative of the issues in light of our limited awareness and hopefully would trigger a deeper and comprehensive consideration.

The Question of Footfall

The problems that affect footfall so far have been identified as Government impediments as we saw in the review of Early Experience. It however is likely that the flow of devotees may only improve marginally even if the systems are simplified. More increase in flow could be expected if both the governments agree to not insist on passports as the mandatory ID to cross over. Some increase in pilgrim flow can be expected if the issuance of passports is made relatively easier in India and it is confirmed that the data regarding visitors using the corridor would not be shared with any foreign agency by either of the two Governments.

The number of visitors is linked to economic ability and the change in life style that it catalyzes among the potential devotees. It is also linked to the value they attach to the yatra. To think that the only motivation is darshan of the Gurdwara, would be a mistake. Motivation to make a visit to Kartarpur could be based on multiple factors: ease of travel to Dera Baba Nanak; facilities to stay, other places to see, eating places, shopping and other activities, transport facilities and costs for various activities. Economy tourism promoting infrastructure will slowly develop and as the word on experience gets to be known, more people would start gravitating to visit Dera Baba Nanak and thereon may be go to Kartarpur. Very little of the above is within hands of Sikhs. In a controlled economy like India, all these fall in the lap of government.

If we now pause for a moment and think if Sikhs should consider low foot fall as their concern? The fact is from the start the position of both governments has been that the corridor will offer a very restricted day visit facility to Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur from Dera Baba Nanak ICP. Initial offer by Pakistan was a cap of 500 visitors per day that at the Indian insistence, because some Sikhs asked for it, was raised to 5,000, apparently without any serious examination. Then there is the question of $ 20 Service Fee that certainly deters the poor families to use the facility.  

Sikhs should best leave the initiatives for increasing the flow of Sikh religious tourists from India to the two governments but should help in enlarging the yatri pool, facilitate their documentation for travel, offer facilities for stay at Dera Baba Nanak during transit and help out with sewa and liturgical services at Darbar Sahib Kartarpur.

Need for Special Institutional Structure

It may not have been obvious to outsiders, but while Sikh politicians picked immediately on the news break about Kartarpur Corridor from their party vantages, Akal Takht and SGPC were not quick to comment on Corridor till almost finalization of detailed agreement between India and Pakistan and mechanics between the state and centre. The slow involvement of SGPC and Akal Takht is understandable because they were not in the loop and getting involved based on media reports or speculation could have been counterproductive.

While the SGPC has the wherewithal for intervening to help out with the systemic issues, as they already have to help devotees with form filling, bus transport facility etc, but for deficiencies of Ragis and Sewadars at Kartarpur, they have sought government help to obtain concurrence from Pakistan authorities. Such requests for smooth functioning of New Kartarpur could continue in the future too because some needs that need inter-governmental sanction do arise. We could also expect the possibility of additional services being introduced as New Kartarpur setup responds to  flow rates and need to effectively utilize the extensive facilities that have been created.

Considering the various factors, we envision that a broad structure answering to the following requirements would be needed:

  • Internal organization to take care of liturgical, sewa and devotee needs and services required and coordinate operational issues with concerned government agencies on their side of border [SGPC/PSGPC]
  • A cell to process coordination of extra resources needed by the current or any new project by channeling global resourcing, rule setting and dispute resolution support [Akal Takht Secretariat]
  • To develop coordinated approach for Sikh related procedural changes, agreement review points to be pursued with Governments by SGPC/PSGPC – [Akal Takht to set up a joint Advisory Committee] 
  • Peace and Interfaith harmony – [Sikh initiatives, engagement and advisories under Akal Takht aegis by a joint Committee]

As can be seen, the principles guiding the above division are that all operations are managed and coordinated with government agencies by the local Gurdwara Management group, while all the policy, reviews, dispute settlement, new initiatives, resource mobilization and advisories would be by and under the aegis of Akal Takht.

Contextualizing Kartarpur

We know that Kartarpur played a unique role in the early development of Sikhi. This historical development was accomplished using the facility of the first dharamsal, its sangat, langar et al. The way it worked, should be brought to the awareness of visitors by a miniature model or an audio visual representation by the New Kartarpur setup.

Some work of this kind is understood to be being done by Pakistan authorities by recreating a farm similar to the one that Guru Nanak himself had tilled. It would be a good move if Sikhs also involve, the Rababi kirtanyas coming down from Bhai Mardana and other Rababis who had been associated with Guru Ghar and who have retained their interest in kirtan tradition, to render sewa at Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. Additionally a Rababi could be considered to be made part of kirtan Jathas to complete traditional foursome, choki.

Guru Nanak had created tremendous harmony with both Hindus and Muslims. The latter created a masoleum next to his Samadhi. This structure continued to exist in the building constructed in 1572 which was renovated and expanded in the course of construction of Katarpur Corridor. The Muslim caretaker and his family are said to have lived at the site doing sewa for centuries. Thus the tradition of Sikh-Muslim amity has continued in Kartarpur. As a token of their respect for the Guru, they use Chadar on the masoleum of the same fabric and color as the Romallas used in the Gurdwara. The new Kartarpur setup should allow for all these features to be built in so that their continuity is assured.

A historical feature that was reported uncovered during the construction work was an old well from Guru Nanak’s time. This is being restored and after due process of authentication, its story could be considered to be added to the Kartarpur lore presented to the visitors.

It should be considered that if feasible, the Sikh community comes together with the Muslim and Hindu inhabitants of the area to revive the tradition to together sing the praises of the one shared divine Father of all jn an acceptable ecumenical format.[46] So while the national boundaries stay undisturbed, it could act as a trigger for an interfaith tradition to evolve and the chances of future discontinuities and disconnects are minimized. May be some historical precedence can also be found to revive or start an inclusive celebratory event at New Kartarpur in consultation and with cooperation of the other faiths and if Akal Takht.

Peace Expectations

We have mentioned earlier that there are good reasons for the Sikhs to wish for Indo-Pak amity but Sikhs did not suggest or claim that the decision to open the corridor could become a trigger to set the neighbors on a path leading to peace, harmony and prosperity between the neighbors and in the South Asian region. That hope has been variously expressed by the leading political leaders of both the countries as discussed in part II of this paper.

Sikhs share that hope not only because of the force of their persuasion and theology but also because they realize that it is only through an atmosphere of abiding Indo-Pak peace and harmony that will help Sikh longing to be fulfilled in practice. Sikhs also have noted with thankfulness that notwithstanding the existing sour state of Indo-Pak relations, the Corridor was completed, inaugurated and it has continued to function. That is certainly a credit to the two governments.

That the Sikhs agree with and endorse the calls for peace and harmony and they also recognize that peace is the key to regional prosperity is obvious. They would no doubt get engaged, both individually and in small groups, in supporting peace initiatives and to help avoid any acts that may impede the maintenance of peace. On their own, Sikhs as a community, however, seem not in a position to initiate the peace process between India and Pakistan as their Apex institutions are not organized for playing interventionist role as peacemakers.

The more likely possibility that may have some chance of success in peacemaking is to persuade a group of say elder statesmen like Manmohan Singh, L K Advani and Farooq Abdulla – each grounded in their own religious tradition, impeccable record of patriotism, awareness of security imperatives, sensitivity to internal disruptive triggers and grasp of Pakistan’s viewpoints to come together as a group and try to explore possibilities of peace with Pakistan in a non-official role and search leads that the two governments can consider, use and build on. Such intervention will be able to get constructive media involvement and good offices of the world leaders.

If such a group identifies some constructive role for the Sikh community, the Sikh religious and political leadership would cooperate and devise practical ways in which the Sikh engagement with the peace process can be encouraged and made meaningful. Thus the role of Sikhs would be an adjunct to or part of the initiatives by the leaders of their countries.

The good part for Sikhs is that the promotion of peace effort, directly or indirectly is not against their ethos. Sikhs are fervent believers in sarbat ka bhalaa – the well being of one and all. They also pray to be blessed with the resolve to ‘shubh karman tae kabh-hoon n taroon’ – to never shy away from a righteous cause. My conclusion after searches in the Culture of Resistance in Sikhs was that ‘Sikh resistance’ was another name for their urge for ‘resolute compassion’ for the well being of collective community.[47]We do witness in any rescue situation or humanitarian mission, the Sikh urge for resolute compassion helping bring succor and hope to beleaguered, wrapped so much as their minds are with the persona of Guru Nanak.

Umbilical Cord of Corridor- Link to Indo-Pak Reality

Notwithstanding the sincerity of the two governments in coming together to complete and make the corridor facility operational in record time and having been generous and empathetic, Sikhs are aware that either of the Governments can impose restrictions on the concession or even shut down the facility if they develop any serious reservations. Sikhs however can take heart that the facility was inaugurated and has continued to function even when the relations between the two countries are almost at their lowest.

Yet the situation can change and the maximum risk of that happening is if any terrorist or other egregious anti country activity can be attributed to be happening in New Kartarpur or for any reason, risk to security of either country is seen to be emanating from there. In such situation, the rules may be changed or the facility closed without giving any notice or explaining the reasons.

As we come close to finish this paper, the news of vandalism at Gurdwara Janam Asthan, by a segment of the local Muslims has caused lot of reaction in India. Pakistani Sikh community is very small and can easily be eased out of that country by vested interests and extremists. Even though Pakistan has acted decisively, the protests in India acquired political color and dissipated the goodwill generated by the Kartarpur Corridor. This makes the hope of peace a distant dream that can be disastrous for the SA region.

The Indo-Pak peace and Harmony therefore should not be read only as control over cross border acts of terror and related planting of spies and saboteurs or other acts of hostility but it should include security of the minorities and their heritage in both the countries. The real umbilical cord that will ultimately sustain Kartarpur spirit and model is broader understanding of imperatives of human well being and any talk of peace bereft of such empathy may only end up addressing part of the problem.

THE PLAY OF INTERFAITH RELATIONS

Interfaith interventions have been used mainly to bring about internal peace and harmony within the society, by co-opting the good offices of empathetic segments of the mainstream. In Western Societies, the Interfaith Engagement has now permeated to the grass root levels as the movement has been adopted by Churches and Congregations have actively got involved in the process.[48] It has strengthened the democratic processes by more informed involvement of the lay people with legislative agenda as the actual legislation is critically looked at by citizen groups. Thus level of empathetic awareness of other faith groups and cultural diversity has been enhanced. There is the push back by exclusivist nationalistic and religious fringes but basic character of value systems put in place are not in danger of being discarded.

In India [and Pakistan] the interfaith conversations that I have had the occasion to participate in tended to get confined to surface bonhomie and talk of faith precepts than say lived Sikhi. Faith symbols are freely exploited by politicians and religious communities alike. Such attitudes cause pervasive interfaith violent interfaith conflict to continue.

Nonetheless, Sikhs can carve out an interfaith thrust starting with the involvement of interfaith activists in India and then try to extend the engagement to interfaith groups in Pakistan. This can help to smoothen out Sikh-Muslim relations and might also help initiate conversation to promote the cause of peace in the Indo-Pak region. The better option may be to initially try and work on interfaith relations between Hindu religious leaders from India and the Muslim religious leaders in Pakistan. This can move in tandem with negotiations at the political levels. It is important to recognize that unless there is a determined effort at the political level, the interfaith actions may only succeed in bringing the parties to table. Tangible gains are not likely without the politicians getting in the act. Cultural interventions help in softening attitudes and help remove the prevalent prejudices in the minds of lay public. Obviously mounting interfaith intervention in international situation would have better chances of success if it is part of a multi pronged overall approach.

While a purposive interfaith initiative to promote Indo-Pak peace and harmony could be a very ambitious project, smaller initiatives of people to people contact between the two Punjabs can be and have been undertaken in the past. Likewise the Cricket diplomacy has been tried and had a decisive role in Kartarpur case. Literary meets, art exhibits, film festivals et al are also known to have helped. Not surprisingly, oftentimes, the play of discord is little more than a clash of strong homai[s].

CLOSING FOR NOW

Guru Arjun had spoken of the essence of the ideal vision of society in a mini epic composition by saying ‘the merciful Lord has now conveyed His command that let no one chase after and attack anyone else and let everyone abide in peace. Let this – halemi raj -benevolent, humble and modest rule prevail. Let, softly and gently, the droplets of divine nectar trickle down — Let us remember too that we all who have come to be together in our lives on this earth, each of us shall return home by a different route. The God oriented will reap profit while the self-willed will lose their investment and depart.’[49] What the Guru is saying does resonate with the hope that we have talked about.

The yearning for peace is universal. Surely Narendra Modi, Imran Khan, Manmohan Singh and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are men of faith and are inspired by the belief in improving the lives of the people when they talk of pulling down the Berlin Wall, the replication of Kartarpur Model and bringing peace dividend of prosperity to the future generations.  So the stakes are high and they are common to all in the South Asia region.

We therefore are not going to venture summing up this very fluid situation. It is ongoing and the results of this bold and unique initiative are in the collective hands of the leaders of these two countries. All I can repeat is that the Sikhs are happy and thankful at the unfolding events though they have a vague feeling of perplexity as to why India and Pakistan suddenly turned so kind and benevolent to Sikhs! In their moments of loving devotion for the Guru, though most Sikhs must be praying that the hope, for the Corridor be the harbinger of peace and harmony, receives divine blessing!

Verily peace and harmony are priceless and even as our longing for ease of access to Kartarpur is actualizing, we and a huge mass of people are now yearning that the fruit of its fulfillment would be peace and prosperity.

So a longing yields place to a yearning – does it end ever? We do need a Kartarpur Model to keep going all the time!

ooo0ooo

Nirmal Singh

W Palm Beach, FL

Jan 7, 2020

Edited: Orlando, Jan 11, 2020

[1] https://www.dawn.com/news/1447016 Pakistan Minister Fawad Chaudhry called Indian announcement a “victory of peace”. He said via Twitter “It is a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reasons and tranquillity on both sides of the border.”

[2] Read more at: https://www.livemint.com/politics/news/-kartarpur-model-may-help-resolve-future-conflicts-manmohan-singh-11573042331347.html

[3] https://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Gurdwara_Kartarpur_Sahib

[4] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/the-religious-and-historical-significance-of-pakistans-kartarpur-sahib-gurudwara/316523/

[5] For a broader treatment of the subject read the paper by the author ‘Decoding Babarvani This 550th’ published in Sikh Review, Special Issue November 2019 or at link https://www.sikhnet.com/news/decoding-babarvani-550th

[6] Please see https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/off-the-field/kapil-dev-imran-khan-made-pakistans-cricket-team-a-cohesive-unit-that-ability-has-led-to-his-rise-in-politics/articleshow/65176516.cms .

[7] July 1972 Simla Agreement by Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, PMs of India and Pakistan, after the 1971 Indo-Pak  conflict that led to formation of Bangladesh, provided that the two countries will resolve issues bilaterally through dialogue. The understanding has failed to deliver as Pakistan continued to support terror attacks and India insisted on no talks until terror activity ceases.

[8] See Nirmal Singh, Searches in Sikhism, Hemkunt, 2008,  Article ‘Societal Peace & Harmony – Sikh Precepts & Some Reflections on Sikh Engagement With Neighboring Pakistan’- pp.151-173, go to pp. 164-67. The paper explores areas for involvement by the Sikhs to support peace initiatives and examines possibility for engagement with Pakistan, the land where Guru Nanak was born, lived and perfected the Sikh thought. A premise examined is as to how Sikhs can develop a unique relationship with Pakistan to be able to continue to celebrate their shared heritage, take care of Sikh holy sites and provide any succor that the small Sikh population in Pakistan may need.  

[9] The above description draws on Wikipedia Entries relating to Sikhs in Pakistan and Sikh Wiki entry at link: https://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Sikhism_in_Pakistan, in addition to author’s reflections on Sikh interface with Muslims and issues and status of Pakistani Sikhs that find mention in a number of his writings over the last 15 years or so.

[10] For a comprehensive account see: Nirmal Singh, Indo-Pak Amity: A Sikh Perspective in two parts, Sikh Review, Feb and Mar 2005 issues

[11] Ibid [note 3]

[12] https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/kartarpur-corridor-pm-modi-thanks-pakistan-pm-imran-khan-for-respecting-indian-sentiments-550th-birth-anniversary-of-guru-nanak-dev/story/389455.html

[13] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kartarpur-can-change-face-of-south-asia-like-the-fall-of-berlin-wall-pakistan-foreign-minister-shah-mahmood-qureshi/story-m5FfxtjKcE4gHTvaOuwFfN.html

[14] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/us-welcomes-opening-of-kartarpur-corridor/858987.html

[15] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/30-minute-journey-to-guru-s-abode-a-lifetime-of-experience/859137.html

[16] See: https://www.dw.com/en/why-kartarpur-corridor-is-unlikely-to-defuse-india-pakistan-tensions/a-51166467 Gobind Singh is brother of Ramesh Singh Arora, the first Sikh nominated member of Punjab Assembly.

[17] Ravi Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service, Dera Baba Nanak, November 10, 2019.

[18] PTI Report published in Tribune 12/01/19 https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/kartarpur-corridor-army- chief-bajwa-s-brainchild-will-hurt-india-pak-minister/868334.html  The news set off an intemperate and divisive debate between Hindu and Sikh readers, some Hindus are concerned with the corridor opening. Tribune has hardly been receiving any reader comments on most items but this news drew 28 comments.

On the other hand, in Pakistan, extremist elements are unhappy with accommodation to the Sikhs because they see Pakistan as Muslim land and expect Sikhs to ally in battle against Modi and Hindus.

So the extremist elements are actively citing Corridor to drum up belligerency on both sides.

[19] @SMQureshiPTI #KartarpurCorridor #PakistanOpensKartarpur

[20] https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/6/17891/Peace-and-Friendship-on-the-Foundation-of-Kartarpur

[21] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_135906.htm – The link provides transcript of a video lecture by Dr. Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of Berlin Wall. The scope and import of changes that happened is immense and fundamental. Are India and Pakistan ready to even admit of such changes?

[22] https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/kartarpur-corridor-a-modern-miracle/cid/1719750

[23] Ibid Baburvani Reflection

[24]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/71203117.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst  

[25] https://www.business-standard.com/multimedia/video-gallery/general/ex-pm-manmohan-singh-returns-to-india-after-visiting-kartarpur-sahib-in-pakistan-94021.htm

[26] Ibid. Gopalkrishna Gandhi sees the Corridor as an eminently reasonable, apolitical and unprejudicial stand-alone facility – almost totally risk averse if subversion possibility is kept in check.

[27] https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3037345/indias-ayodhya-verdict-can-modi-harness-religion-healing-and

[28] https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/caa-is-a-political-issue-use-the-indian-army-with-care/story-t3RCIMuqNIo6XTQ0RijliO.html

[29] The subject of using Interfaith Engagement for societal peace and harmony and as an aid to resolving international conflicts from Sikh perspective and Indo-Pak context are discussed in Author’s Book ‘Interfaith Engagement,’ 2015, Hemkunt. Text of the book can be accessed free at https://www.sikhsandsociety.org/

[30] Diplomat, Dec 11, 2018: Grant Wyeth is a Melbourne-based political analyst who writes on international affairs for the Diplomat.

[31] https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/india-pakistan-kartarpur-corridor-opens-intl-hnk/index.html

[32] Ibid see note 18

[33] culled from the paper ‘Ayodhya: A Symbol of Rule of Lawlessness’ by Pieter Friedrich, posted by IJ Singh on GLZ, Dec. 4, 2019

[34] https://www.dw.com/en/why-kartarpur-corridor-is-unlikely-to-defuse-india-pakistan-tensions/a-51166467

[35] On 14 February 2019, in a convoy transporting 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force personnel from Jammu to Srinagar, a bus was rammed by a car carrying explosives near Awantipora killing 40 CRPF personnel. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. Pakistan denied involvement.

[36] Article 370 of Indian constitution allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration. The Article was abrogated on Aug 5, 2019 and the state divided into two Union territories. For detailed analysis, see Wikipedia entry Article 370 of Constitution of India

[37] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/main-accused-in-nankana-sahib-vandalism-held-in-pakistan/articleshow/73120404.cms

[38] Sikh heritage, Bobby Singh Bansal claims 90 per cent of sites are in Pakistan – mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/90-sikh-heritage-sites-in-pakistan-can-boost-tourism-uk-historian-865355 About Amardeep Singh’s book see: https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/culture/2016/01/29/lost-heritage-the-sikh-legacy-in-pakistan  

[39] https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/travel-tourism/kartarpur-corridor-sgpc-demands-simplification-of-registration-process-for-darbar-sahib-visit/1763748/   

[40] https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/onus-on-india-to-ensure-good-footfall-at-kartarpur-corridor-pak-sgpc/story-Vg1u8UeAbDqLl5iqOm6fBI.html

[41] https//sgpc-sets-up-free-online-registration-centres-at-gurdwaras/story-YnOUaHM16POQf1HFs5disL.html    

[42] https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/kartarpur-corridor-

[43] https://www.sikh24.com/2019/12/20/kartarpur-corridor-sgpc-to-start-bus-service-from-amritsar/#.XgVsc0dKhiA 

[44] For a more factual understanding of the Indian team’s composition, concerns please see https://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/31597/Transcript+of+Media+Briefing+after+second+meeting+on+Kartarpur+Corridor+July+14+2019 – MEA transcript of briefing on the meeting by the Indian delegation with the Pakistani team on July 14, 2019. This was the second meeting. The transcript mentions receiving some suggestions from Sikhs in India and abroad and from SGPC but there is no indication of any Sikh representative in the negotiation group.

[45] ‘Pakistan has dropped controversial Sikh leader Gopal Singh Chawla from its team which is holding talks with India on the Kartarpur corridor in Wagah, a senior Pakistani official said Sunday, after New Delhi objected to the presence of the Khalistani separatists in a 10-member committee which would facilitate Sikh pilgrims after opening of the corridor’: https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pak-removes-controversial-khalistani-separatists-from-sikh-committee-119071400258_1.html

[46] Bhai Gurdas’s Var 18, Pauri 14 suggests such gathering and practice at Kartarpur sangat

[47] See the author’s article ‘Militant or Compassionately Resolute’ in his book Searches in Sikhism, Hemkunt, 2008, full text of the book can be accessed free at Google Books or the Article at link https://www.newfrenzy.org/militant-or-compassionately-resolute/

[48] “One helpful development in the West has been that houses of worship and religious communities are increasingly taking moral positions on war, injustice, violence, discrimination and any other socially divisive issues — Examples of empowering theologies –include the Liberation theology in Latin America and the Black theology in S Africa”

Nirmal Singh, Interfaith Engagement, Hemkunt, 2015, p. 30 https://www.sikhsandsociety.org/

[49] For a comprehensive read on the subject please go to the author’s Article ‘Hun Hukam hoa Meharvan Daa’ at the link; https://www.sikhsandsociety.org/hun-hukam-hoa-mehrvaan-da-and-now-the-beneficient-lord-has-ordained-guru-arjans-thought-on-halemi-raj.html  The rendering above is of the following extract from the composition:  hun hukam hoa miharvan da. pai koay na kisai ranjandaa. sabh sukhalee vutheea ih hoa halaymee raj jio. jhimm jhimm amrit varasdaa. — sabh ikthay hoe aya. ghar jasan vaat vataya. gurmukh laha lai ga-ay manmukh chalay mool gavaey jio – Sri Rag M V, p. 73  

 [L1]I think this requires more context, perhaps up front in the historical section. What was the Simla agreement, what was its principal objective and how did it fall short of those objectives?