NEW DELHI :
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh will be part of the first all party jatha, or delegation, to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, through the new land corridor constructed between the two countries, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said on Thursday after meeting the former prime minister in New Delhi.
The move comes just days after Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a video message said that Islamabad would invite Manmohan Singh, a senior Congress leader, to attend the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, linking the gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district with the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
It seemingly allows Singh, India’s only Sikh prime minister and a person who traces his roots to Gah village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, to make the pilgrimage to the gurdwara in Pakistan without accepting the Pakistani invitation.
“This is a religious pilgrimage and Pakistan has been seeking to bring politics—India-Pakistan as well as India’s internal politics—into it," said Dilip Sinha, a former foreign ministry official, who has dealt with Pakistan.
Congress leaders had previously said that no invite had been received by Singh and that he had never visited Pakistan in his 10-year tenure as prime minister.
The Pakistani invite was a deliberate effort to drive a wedge between PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, to which the former prime minister belongs, said political analysts in India. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched several personal attacks on his Indian counterpart, and the invite to Singh, rather than Modi was seen as a deliberate snub to the Indian prime minister.
Ties between India and Pakistan have plummeted since 5 August, when New Delhi abrogated provisions of Article 370 of its Constitution to withdraw the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic relations with India and expelled the Indian high commissioner in protest. India has said the revocation of the special status to Kashmir is an internal matter. However, both countries have kept up the promise of opening the Kartarpur corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
“Politically speaking, I would say it is an intelligent move on the part of Captain Amarinder Singh. He has not only conveyed to the Sikh community that Singh, a two time Sikh prime minister, would be part of this historic event, but has also managed to send a signal that the invite of Punjab’s government was accepted and not of Imran Khan," said Ghanshyam Dev, head of the political science department, DAV College, Chandigarh.
“Wherever Sikhs are, whether it is in Punjab, Delhi or abroad, they are all attached to Kartarpur Sahib. This event is important for the entire Sikh community and a historic one. Whoever is part of this initiative will have the goodwill of Sikhs," Dev added. The development could play a “small role" in the forthcoming Haryana and Delhi elections among voters belonging to the Sikh community, he said. “It makes Singh a much taller leader for accepting the invite from the Punjab chief minister to visit Kartarpur as part of an Indian delegation", rather than an invite from Pakistan issued through the media, said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.