Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Kartarpur road corridor, which will provide pilgrims an easy passage to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
The ceremony took place in Mann village of Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh were present at the ceremony, which was also attended by leaders and workers of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Naidu said the “longtime dream of Sikhs has been fulfilled”, The Indian Express reported. “It is a historic day,” he said. “This will take us closer to our guru who has worked for social and gender equality and fought the caste system. We are happy that Pakistan has accepted our demand [to construct a corridor on its side of the border]. Now, we don’t have to go via Attari. This corridor will be the bridge between the people of the two countries who have so much in common. The corridor will open new ways and possibilities for us.”
He said the objective of the function is to work for peace. “Peace is the first condition of development,” Naidu said. “I hope people on the other side are also listening to what CM Singh and I have to say in this regard. The objective of this function is to work for peace.”
He added, “Some people are using religion to spread terrorism. But no religion has anything to do with terrorism. India never attacks any country. We don’t want to attack anyone.”
Amarinder Singh said he hoped the corridor will be constructed by the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year, and added that rumours that a visa will be required to use the corridor were false. He also blamed Pakistan for the attack in Amritsar last week that left three people dead. “I had been in the Army. I am senior to Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa,” he said. “Who taught us to attack people holding a religious congregation? We Punjabis know how to give a befitting reply to such forces.”
Singh added, “As a Sikh, I wanted to attend the ceremony in Pakistan. But I am also the chief minister of Punjab.”
Singh had cited the attack in Amritsar to decline the invitation by Pakistan to attend a similar ceremony on its side of the border on Wednesday.
Earlier, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley lauded the government’s decision to build the corridor and described it as a “historic day”. “Religious devotees in India will be facilitated by the foundation laying of Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor up to the international border with Pakistan,” he wrote on Twitter. “This corridor will provide easy access to devotees to pay obeisance at the historical and sacred shrines.”
Ahead of the inauguration, Punjab Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa stuck black tape on ministers’ names on the foundation stone to protest the inclusion of Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal, ANI reported. “It is not a BJP-Akali event,” he said. “Why is their name here?”
The Centre on November 22 had approved the development of the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the International Border to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year. The gurdwara is located at the site where Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, died in 1539, and is one of the holiest shrines in Sikhism.
Pakistan has agreed to build a similar corridor in its territory, with Prime Minister Imran Khan scheduled to lay the foundation stone for its construction on November 28. Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj cited prior commitments to decline an invitation, and deputed Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri to attend the event.
Khan has also invited Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for the ceremony. Sidhu on Sunday said that he has applied to the Ministry of External Affairs for permission to attend the event.