By Ranvir S. Nayar
For the 20 million Sikhs and millions of other Indian devotees of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is certainly a big occasion. More so, since it comes at a time when Sikhs all over the world were celebrating the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
When the partition took place in 1947, it threw the lives of dozens of millions of people into a complete disarray, especially those living in Punjab and Bengal, the two large states most heavily impacted by the division of the country. Several million Sikhs, who had been living in parts of Pakistan, notably West Punjab, had to leave not just their property, jobs and friends behind as they fled to India, they had to also leave a very large chunk of the Sikh heritage as undivided Punjab was the place where Sikhism was founded and had flourished for centuries.
Hence, most Sikhs have been yearning for the possibility of visiting these spiritual sites without falling prey to the tumultuous bilateral ties that have seen more of downs than upsides in the past seven decades. From the dozen odd key spiritual places, Kartarpur has been the most significant one. But it has been slow to come about. It was back in 2000 that Pakistan agreed to the Indian suggestion to build a bridge to allow visa-free access to the holy site. However, since then the corridor, like practically everything else in India-Pakistan equation, has been hostage to the ups and downs in the bilateral ties.
It was in November last year that the two sides agreed to move ahead, keeping the 550th anniversary in mind and with the target to open the corridor in time for the event. For a few weeks, things seemed to be moving ahead. But in February, the bilateral ties nosedived following the killing of 40 Indian soldiers by a suicide bomber in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ever since, having just managed stave off a full-blown war, the two nations have been exchanging barbs and trying to pull the other down in the international community, hardly the kind of ambience needed for an important and unprecedented step like allowing visa-free access for citizens of one nation to a spiritual site in the other. And even until last week, it was not certain if the corridor and the Sikh devotees would succumb to the tensions and the endless conspiracy theories floating around.
Against this backdrop, the fact that the corridor has indeed opened today marks a momentous occasion. It is important not only for the Sikhs and other devotees of Guru Nanak in India, but it is also a significant morale booster for Sikhs living in Pakistan.
But above all, it is an occasion, and a rare one in the current climate of mistrust and bickering, for the leaders of the two nations to take charge of the narrative of the bilateral relations. It is indeed heartening to see that both Imran Khan and Narendra Modi could finally rise above the temptation of allowing domestic politics to overshadow a step that could very well serve as a precursor to a significant thaw in Indian-Pakistani ties.
And this is precisely what they both need to do. Enough blood has been spilled on both sides in the past 75 years. It is time for the two leaders to seize the initiative and build on the goodwill that the Kartarpur Corridor could and should generate among the people on both sides. It is time finally that India and Pakistan realized that neither of the two nations can change the history. Instead, they should behave like good neighbors and focus their efforts, money and ideas on how to make people on both sides of the border more prosperous.
There are dozens of other low-hanging fruits like the Kartarpur Corridor that can go a long way in making the people to people contact between India and Pakistan significant and key to the bilateral ties. If these contacts can be strengthened, no future leader would dare to ignore the two people’s real sentiments and be obliged to strengthen peace and trust in the India-Pakistan equation.
(The author Ranvir S. Nayar is the editor of Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India that encompasses publishing, communication and consultation services.)