Prabhjot Singh, Tribune News Service
Anandpur Sahib, November 7. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to assuage the hurt feelings of the Indian Government by promising not to permit activities of Sikh separatists on the Canadian soil while appeasing the Sikh community by paying obeisance at Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib before visiting Virasat-e-Khalsa here today.
“It has been a wonderful experience. I visited the Golden Temple during my last visit,” he said. Harper was accompanied by his wife Laureen and seven Indo-Canadian MPs, including Tim Uppal, the first turbaned federal minister outside India.
Harper today became the first elected head of a state to visit Virasat-e-Khalsa.
He has also become the first Prime Minister to visit two of the five Takhts —Amritsar and Sri Anandpur Sahib — of the Sikhs.
It has become conventional for Canadian premiers to visit the Golden Temple when they visit India. The only exception was Paul Martin, the last Liberal Prime Minister of Canada. He avoided visiting the Golden Temple because the controversial Bill on same sex marriages was before Canadian parliament at that time.
Though Stephen Harper also had neither Amritsar nor Anandpur Sahib on his itinerary, it was the Punjab Government that persuaded the visiting dignitary to visit Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib and the much-publicised Virasat-e-Khalsa, a “modern wonder”, during his day-long visit to the city.
Congratulating US President Barack Obama on his re-election, he said the stand of the Canadian Government on preventing activities of Sikh separatists on the Canadian soil was well-known and acceptable to the Indian Government.
“We are committed not to permit any secessionist activities on our soil,” he added.
He did not respond to another question about delay in signing of the free-trade agreement with India. The Punjab Government and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee rolled out red carpets for the Canadian premier and his wife. On arrival at the sanctum sanctorum, Punjab Health Minister Madan Mohan Mittal and Food Supplies Minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon received them. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal accompanied the Harpers from Chandigarh.
While Stephen Harper was presented a sword of honour besides a “siropa”, Jathedar of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib Tarlochan Singh presented “siropas” to other members of his entourage. Later, Dalmegh Singh, SGPC secretary, presented a copy of the Sikh Encyclopaedia and a painting of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib to the visiting VIPs.
Though the police had converted the Takht Kesgarh Sahib complex into a fortress, movement of pilgrims was also restricted, especially when the Canadian guests were inside the gurdwara. Harpers spent more than 90 minutes there. Harper and his entourage will leave for Bangalore tomorrow morning.
Though a strong business delegation accompanied him, no meetings could be organised between members of the visiting delegation and captains of the Punjab trade and industry. (With inputs from Arun Sharma).
Virasat-e-Khalsa mesmerises Harper
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who after paying obeisance at Gurdwara Sri Takht Keshgarh Sahib, visited the Virasat-e-Khalsa and said it was a wonderful experience. Putting his comment in the visitors’ book, Harper said: “I am happy to be the first Prime Minister of any country to have paid a visit here.”
Business goes for a toss
Harper’s visit proved costly for shopkeepers around Gurdwara Sri Takht Keshgarh Sahib. As tight security was provided to the VVIP guest, the traders were told to keep their business establishments shut since Tuesday.