KARTARPUR, at a tantalisingly approachable distance of 3 km from the border, has a multi-hued significance for the Sikhs. It is here that Guru Nanak Dev spent 17 years, establishing the first Sikh centre, naming his successor before giving up his mortal body. Kartarpur is within sighting distance, but the route is barred by the two armies. The birthplaces of Guru Ram Das and the samadhi of Guru Arjan Dev, both in Pakistan, are also out of bounds, except for a fortunate few who make the pilgrimage to Pakistan, as much a land of gurus as is India. Navtoj Sidhu’s announcement about Pakistan’s readiness to open a corridor to the Kartarpur shrine naturally sent a thrill of anticipation among the devout.
The sentiment for reviving lost connections while forsaking the baggage of the past has strong bipartisan support in both Punjabs. Sukhbir Badal disregarded rabid anti-Pakistan discourse by his alliance partner to visit Lahore in 2012. The present CM Amarinder Singh preceded him by a decade and was gifted a horse. Neither the horse lived for long nor did the Captain’s initiative to break the ice. Each time the two Punjabs have tried to make amends, the initiative has run into the wall of obdurate and unyielding state interests where the bigger picture does not allow for minor concessions.
A visa-free corridor was first proposed by Benazir Bhutto nearly 25 years back and has since then struck an emotional chord in Indian Punjab. New Delhi has much to be upset with Islamabad but gurdwara diplomacy and a reciprocal ‘shrine diplomacy’ in India will build up a badly-needed peace constituency to neutralise the existing negativity in Indo-Pak ties. A liberal visa policy will bring increasingly larger number of Sikh devotees which will help in the upkeep of the nearly 200 gurdwaras and historical sites in Pakistan. A constructive approach towards the Kartarpur shrine will not just heal emotional scars, but also help move towards peace in the region, more so as the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak approaches.