The Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday denied permission to a batch of 600 Sikhs to visit Pakistan to mark the centenary celebrations of Saka Nankana Sahib, citing security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic, reported PTI. The pilgrims were scheduled to begin their countrywide tour of the neighbouring country on Friday.

In a communication to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the ministry said that the security situation in Pakistan continues to be adverse and that there was a threat to Indian citizens in that country.

“Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected five lakh people in Pakistan and 10,000 people lost their lives due to the disease,” the notice added. “The health infrastructure in Pakistan is also not adequate.” According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 5.64 lakh Covid-19 cases and 12,380 deaths in Pakistan.

The ministry noted that both passenger and trade traffic between India and Pakistan has stopped since March 2020 due to the pandemic. Based on these reasons, the government said it decided not to accord permission to the Jatha comprising 600 pilgrims to cross over to Pakistan on Friday.

Sikh community condemns move

The decision became a flashpoint between the government and the Sikh community, who accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led dispensation of attacking their religious sentiments. They said the visit was cancelled on arbitrary grounds.

“Nankana Sahib to Sikhs is like Ayodhya is to Hindus and Mecca is to Muslims,” said Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee member Harpreet Singh. “Such restrictions on pilgrimage were made during the Mughal ruled era.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Bibi Jagir Kaur called the government’s decision a sadistic move. “I strongly condemn sad decision taken by Government of India to deny permission to Sikh jatha to leave to attend Saka Nankana Sahib at Pakistan,” she said. “We should have been informed in time by the government.”

Kaur added that the Narendra Modi government had “killed the sentiments of Sikhs”. “Imposing restrictions on the jatha at last minute after completion of all preparations is a testament to the anti-Sikh psyche of the government,” she added.

The government’s decision to cancel the trip last minute also comes amid the protests against the new agriculture legislations, which have become a source of resentment among farmers, most of whom are from Punjab and Haryana.

Thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi’s border points for over two months, seeking the withdrawal of agricultural laws passed in September. Several round of talks between the farm leaders and the government were held, but all of them failed to break the deadlock.

The farmers believe that the new laws undermine their livelihood and open the path for the corporate sector to dominate agricultural. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.