Guru Nanak birth anniversary: Signs of thaw in Indo-Pak ties
New Delhi : In a significant thaw to the frigid ties, India has responded positively to Pakistan's invitation to the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a corridor leading up to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, saying two senior Sikh ministers will represent New Delhi.
Responding to the invite from Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the November 28 ceremony, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Saturday that Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Puri will represent the Narendra Modi government.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will be conducting the ceremony.
Qureshi had extended the invitation to Sushma Swaraj, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, and state minister and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu who has been calling for the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Saturday's development comes after Union Cabinet on Thursday decided to build a corridor from Gurdaspur district in Punjab to the International Border with Pakistan ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in 2019.
The proposal for a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, the place where Nanak died in 1539 has been a demand from India for two decades.
The shrine is visible from the Indian side of the border.
In her letter to Qureshi, Sushma Swaraj said that given her commitments to the election campaign in Telangana, she would not be able to travel to Pakistan.
"However, being mindful of the sentiments of our Sikh citizens and the importance of facilitating their smooth and easy access to holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, we will be sending Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister for Food Processing Industries, and Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, as government of India's representatives for the event planned for November 28," she said.
"It is our hope that the government of Pakistan will expedite the construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respect at the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible."
The government will also develop Sultanpur Lodhi in Punjab, the city associated with Guru Nanak's early life, as a heritage town conforming to all principles of smart cities.
It will also run special trains to sacred places and gurudwaras associated with the Sikh Guru's life, he said.
Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu will lay the foundation stone for the newly-announced Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor in Gurdaspur district's Mann village on Monday.
Sikh pilgrims will now be able to visit the iconic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi.
Earlier in November, Pakistan issued over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims for the ongoing celebrations of the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
India and Pakistan share a bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines that was signed in 1974.
New Delhi's decision comes amid continued rows over Islamabad's denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims visiting pilgrimage sites there.
On Friday, India strongly protested Pakistan's denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Nankana Sahib and Gurudwara Sacha Sauda on the occasion of the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
In April this year and then again in June, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria and other consular officials were denied access to Sikh pilgrims who were visiting Gurdwara Panj Sahib.