Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Indian section of the Kartarpur Corridor and flagged off the first group of pilgrims to Durbar Sahib gurdwara on Saturday, thanking his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan for respecting the country’s sentiments.
Modi inaugurated the trans-border corridor that allows Indian pilgrims visa-free access to Durbar Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district, where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last 18 years of his life.
“I thank Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi for understanding, respecting and acting on India’s sentiments regarding the Kartarpur Corridor,” Modi said before inaugurating the integrated check post at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur. He also thanked workers in Pakistan for speedily building the section of the corridor across the border.
Modi also flagged off the first “jatha”, or batch, of about 600 pilgrims, including former premier Manmohan Singh and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, and led by the Akal Takht’s acting jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh. The corridor linking Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India to the Kartarpur gurdwara was opened to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Addressing a gathering at Shikhar Machhian village, Modi said he felt fortunate to dedicate the Kartarpur Corridor to the nation. “I am getting the same feeling that you get after performing kar sewa (religious service). I congratulate Sikhs across the world. It will be easy for them now to travel to Durbar Sahib gurdwara and pay obeisance,” he said.
Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, governor VP Singh Badnore and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhan Committee (SGPC) chief Gobind Singh Longowal were present at the event.
Guru Nanak was an inspiration for humanity and his teachings continued to be relevant as he blazed a path of unity, brotherhood and harmony, Modi said. “There is a need to assimilate the Guru’s teachings into our lives,” he said, intoning a shabad, a sacred hymn. He urged people to be wary of those who think of hurting India and to keep away from habits such as drug abuse.
Modi also held up Guru Nanak for his efforts to preserve the environment, saying the founder of Sikhism had talked about treating water and the Earth as parents. “Today, when there is talk of exploitation of nature, there is talk of the environment, there is talk of pollution, then the voice of the Guru becomes the basis of our path ahead,” he said.
Listing a slew of steps taken by his government to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, he cited the development of Sultanpur Lodhi as a heritage city, removal of Sikhs from a travel “blacklist” and better rail connectivity between the five Takhts.
“The abolition of Article 370 will also benefit Sikhs living in Jammu & Kashmir because they will now get the same rights as those in rest of India,” he said. He dedicated the Kaumi Sewa Puruskar given to him by the SGPC to Guru Nanak.
There was a celebratory air about the venue and visual motifs underlined the message of piety. There was parkash (installation of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs), on the stage, with religious leaders on one side and dignitaries on the other.
Clad in a golden yellow kurta, sky blue jacket and white pyjama with a saffron turban, Modi paid obeisance on his arrival and sat with the “sangat” before going to the stage for the inaugural ceremony.
Addressing the nation later over the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya title dispute case, the Prime Minister referred to the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor. He noted that both India and Pakistan played a role in the development, and stated that the lesson of the day was that the countries should be together to surge ahead.
“November 9 teaches us the power of staying united and growing together. Today is about the message of integration and emerging victorious together,” he said, while also referring to how the Berlin Wall was brought down on this date, bringing two ideologies together.
The Union Cabinet had passed a resolution in November last year to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak across the country and approved the development of the Kartarpur Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the international border.
The 4.2-km four-lane highway connecting Dera Baba Nanak from the Amritsar-Gurdaspur highway was built at a cost of ~120 crore and a passenger terminal building was built on 15 acres. The air conditioned building has more than 50 immigration counters to handle about 5,000 pilgrims a day, kiosks, washrooms, childcare facilities, first aid facilities and a prayer room.
Speaking to ANI, former PM Manmohan Singh said: “It was a good beginning. India-Pakistan relations are subject to many buts and ifs, I hope this is a good beginning to normalise our relation.”
Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hardeep Singh Puri and Som Prakash, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and local MP Sunny Deol too were present.
The Akali stamp was evident as supporters drove from faraway districts for the event and hoardings with photos of Modi, Badals and Longowal dotted the roads leading to the venue, clearly outnumbering those of the chief minister and his ministerial colleagues.
Chief minister Singh, who spoke on the occasion, cautioned the Pakistani leadership against pushing a divisive agenda in Punjab and Kashmir. “We will retaliate,” he said.
The Congress leader described it as a historic day for every Sikh who had been praying daily for “khulle darshan didar” of the Kartarpur gurdwara. “I have been to Nankana Sahib twice but this will be my first visit to Kartarpur Sahib. I will pray for Punjab and our country,” he said, thanking Modi for facilitating the opening of the corridor.
Former chief minister Badal said prayers had been answered due to Modi and the Akal Takht. “With the opening of the corridor, we get the opportunity to take Guru Nanak’s message to every home,” he said. He urged Modi to continue to be large-hearted towards Punjab, where farmers are facing difficulties.