The Statesman – Kartarpur corridor, Respond to Pakistan’s gesture, Sidhu urges Centre

“They (Pakistan) are ready to open the corridor of Kartarpur Sahib on the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Ji. There can be no bigger happiness than this for the people of Punjab,” said Sidhu.

Ranjeet Jamwal

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 08 September 2018. Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Friday welcomed Pakistan’s decision to open the Kartarpur border with India for the access of Sikh pilgrims and urged the Centre to reciprocate this ‘noble gesture’ of the new government in the neighbouring country.

“They (Pakistan) are ready to open the corridor of Kartarpur Sahib on the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Ji. There can be no bigger happiness than this for the people of Punjab,” said Sidhu.

The cricketer-turned-politician said Pakistan had travelled “miles” in return to “one step” taken by him (by his recent trip to Islamabad for new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath ceremony and demanding opening of Kartarpur corridor).

Quoting a tweet by Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry announcing Pakistan will soon open the Kartar Singh border for Sikh pilgrims and allow them to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur without having to obtain a visa and a system has been formed for the pilgrims entering Pakistan, Sidhu said the step is unprecedented and the corridor is yet to be opened since Partition in 1947.

Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, a historic Sikh pilgrimage where Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Sikh Gurus, is said to have settled there after his travels, is about four kilometers from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab’s Gurdaspur. The 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru, who breathed his last in Kartarpur, is being observed in November 2019.

Sidhu had courted controversy during his visit to Pakistan when he hugged the Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He termed the ‘hug’ as an “emotional” moment as General Bajwa had told him that they were making efforts to open the corridor from India’s Dera Baba Nanak to the Sikh shrine of Kartarpur Sahib.

When asked about the reports that Bajwa in his speech at Pakistan’s 53rd Defence Day on Thursday vowed to avenge the blood flowing on the border, Sidhu refused to comment and said it was not the time for petty politics.

On the charge that he was interfering in India’s foreign policy by taking up the Kartarpur corridor issue directly with Pakistan and thanking its leadership for the latest decision, Sidhu said he went to Pakistan in the personal capacity after getting the due clearances and it was for the Indian government to take a decision in the matter. “I have made a humble request. If there’s peace, this bloodshed (on borders) will come to an end,” he said.

Sidhu said he has no words to thank Pakistan PM Imran Khan for his decision to keep politics separate from religion. Sidhu expressed the hope that the decision will lessen the gap between the two countries.

“I plead to the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Ministry that if they have made an effort, you should also make an effort,” he said, adding that this “is not the time for religion-based politics”. “This is the message from Pakistan to the whole world. Don’t think that anyone can oppose this noble gesture,” Sidhu said.

The Tribune – Batala bridge on last legs, DC orders repair

Ravi Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service

Batala – Panjab – India, 06 September 2018. Deputy Commissioner Vipul Ujwal has ordered immediate repair of the six-decade-old Hansli Bridge, considered to be the lifeline of the city, and removal of encroachments from the bridge.

The ‘Babe da vyaah’ (Guru Nanak’s marriage) celebrations are slated to be held on 16 September, Lakh of devotees and hundreds of motorists are expected to use the bridge that day.

The bridge’s dilapidated condition was recently brought to the notice of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh by social activist Jagjot Singh Sandhu.

He had sent an email and pictures, following which the authorities spurred into action.

On Wednesday, the DC held a meeting with SDM Rohit Gupta and Municipal Committee Executive Officer Bhupinder Singh, where he ordered immediate removal of illegal structures dotting both sides of the bridge. Deliberations were held among officials on Thursday too to find a remedy.

More than 30,000 people use the passage every day. To make things worse, iron barricades constructed in 2014 during the tenure of DC Abhinav Trikha to stop the flow of heavy traffic, were removed by vested interests over a period of time.

Fifty school buses also pass over the bridge daily. The DC has also ordered the MC to establish the barricades within the next 48 hours.

Sources say the administration may have a tough time in removing the politically backed encroachments.

“This is a crucial vote bank for parties. In the past too, efforts were made to remove them, but to no avail,” said an officer.

However, Ujwal said, “We have begun the process of identifying land where these people can relocate. I know the condition of the bridge is indeed fragile and the need of the hour is to immediately repair it.”

The bridge, according to PWD officials, has outlived its utility. It was first constructed during the British rule but was washed away by the 1955 floods dividing the city into two parts. Later, it was rebuilt in 1957. Since then, a majority of the town’s population travels on it daily.

A senior official said Batala was the eighth largest city of Punjab in terms population after Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala, Bathinda, Mohali and Hoshiarpur. The town’s economy would be hit if the bridge collapses.

“This is apart from the damage it can inflict to human lives, including schoolchildren,” claimed Sandhu.

To Zelzate (Be) and Sas van Gent (NL)

To Zelzate
23 July 2018

Gent Vijfwindgatenstraat
Bus 55 to Zelzate due in 11 minutes

Zelzate – Klein Rusland

Sas van Gent NL
23 July 2018

Note the blue Albert Heijn shopping trolly

Albert Heijn banner



I messed up the sequence of the pictures
We jumped back to 20 July and will return to August
in due course.
Man in Blue

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian and Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – The legacy of Guru Nanak lives on in four historic Gurdwaras in Pakistan’s Panjab

Kartarpur Sahib, Sacha Sauda, Sacha Khand and Beri Sahib are associated with key events or miracles in the Sikh guru’s life

Haroon Khalid

Panjab – Pakistan, 07 September 2018. Standing next to the depleted Ravi river, the renovated Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib with its white dome is a lonely structure. On any given day, there are only a handful of devotees at the shrine, most of them Muslims, who for generations have revered Guru Nanak.

It is believed that after his death, a disagreement broke out between his Muslim and Hindu devotees. While the Muslims wanted to bury him, the Hindus wanted to cremate him. They let the matter be for a night, only to discover a pile of flowers where his body had been when they returned the following morning.

Equally distributed among the two sets of devotees, half of the flowers were buried and the other half cremated, thus giving Nanak both a Hindu smadh and a Muslim grave. While the main shrine was built on the smadh, the grave lies in the courtyard outside.

For decades after Partition, as Sikh devotees left for India, the shrine fell to ruin. Its proximity to the border made it a hub of smugglers and drug addicts. But for Muslims living in villages around the shrine, Guru continued to hold significance.

In the pantheon of Sufi saints and the circuit of pilgrimages to Sufi shrines, the Kartarpur gurdwara remained a minor pilgrimage. Despite Partition, stories of Nanak, of his miracles, and how he transcended the confines of religious boundaries continued to do the rounds.

Others went a step further and declared that Nanak was actually Muslim. As evidence, they pointed to his pilgrimage to Ka’aba, a structure at the Grand Mosque in Mecca that is considered Islam’s holiest site, and his appreciation of the poet Baba Farid Ganjshakar.

A few years ago in an interview, Ghulam Hussain, who came from a family of Muslim kirtan performers based in Amritsar before Partition, told me how Nanak, in his poetry, expounded the essence of the Quran.

Legends of Sacha Sauda and Sacha Khand

Far away from Kartarpur Sahib, deeper within Punjab, is the Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, a big, well-maintained complex that commemorates one of the most important events from Nanak’s early life that augured his transition into spirituality.

Here, instead of buying goods worth trading as instructed by his father, a young Nanak bought food for starving ascetics in a jungle. When his father asked him what he had done with the money, he said he had engaged in a sacha sauda or true trade.

Just behind this complex is another small shrine, ignored by the authorities as the more prominent gurdwara was renovated. It is believed that at this spot, Guru Nanak met a trader who had bags of sugar laden on his donkeys. Spotting the bags, Bhai Mardana, Nanak’s Muslim companion, asked him to check with the merchant what was in the bags.

Fearful that he would have to give a portion of his goods to what appeared to be two beggars, the merchant lied that it was mud. “Mud it must be,” Nanak is believed to have replied, and to the trader’s shock, his sugar had transformed into mud.

Realising his folly, the trader fell at Nanak’s feet and asked his forgiveness, which he was granted and thus the mud turned back to sugar, lending this gurdwara its name – Sacha Khand (true sugar).

Sitting in the shadow of the gurdwara, I met a group of devotees of a saint called Peer Munawar, who is buried in front of the gurdwara. Squatting on the ground with a sickle in his hands, the mud from the fields still stuck to his forehead, one of the devotees narrated to me and the people around us the story of this gurdwara, of how Nanak had turned mud to sugar.

His narration was not the traditional story but an amalgamation of the miracles performed at Sacha Khand and Sacha Sauda. He told me he had heard these stories from his ancestors who had once lived here with the Sikhs. “Guru Nanak was a true devotee of god,” he said. “He was a rightly guided soul.” His audience needed no convincing.

Under the sacred berry tree

But, sometimes, this devotion is subtle. In Sialkot, I visited the Gurdwara Beri Sahib, which commemorates Nanak’s encounter with the Sufi saint Hamza Ghous, who after having been lied to by a devotee was planning to destroy the city.

It is under a berry tree here, which lends the gurdwara its name, that Nanak is said to have convinced Hamza Ghous to abandon his plans of destroying the city. The berry tree, with a massive trunk, still stood next to the main gurdwara, which had been renovated.

Under the tree was a grave with a red cloth with Quranic verses on it. This was the grave of Peer Beri (or the saint of berries), I was told. The devotees around the grave believed it had existed for centuries.

The truth, however, was that the grave was constructed sometime after Partition. This was one of the most important gurdwaras associated with Nanak in the region, and the berry tree acquired a special significance because of its connection with Nanak.

Slowly, as Nanak’s stories disappeared after the departure of the Sikhs, the tree remained central to the religious imagination of the people, and thus the arrival of Peer Beri. It is a unique way of upholding the sacredness of a space that was once sacred because of Guru Nanak.

There are several other such stories scattered across the country that continue to hold on to the legacy of Guru Nanak. While Punjab saw the worst of the riots of Partition that ripped apart the social fabric of society, it is also home to Guru Nanak, the ultimate expression of Punjab’s syncretism.

At a time when both India and Pakistan are looking to move forward and discussions about the Kartarpur corridor, a long-standing demand of the Sikh community that would allow Indian pilgrims to travel to the shrine without a visa, have once again surfaced, the legacy of Nanak becomes more important than ever before. For it holds the potential to bring people, religious communities and nations together.

Haroon Khalid is the author of four books. His latest book is Imagining Lahore: The City That Is, The City That Was

Dawn – Jinnah’s Pakistan?

A meritorious appointment has been undone for reasons that have nothing to do with professional competence or qualification

Editorial, 08 September 2018. Princeton’s Professor Atif Mian has stepped down from the Economic Advisory Council after a campaign by far-right religious elements threatened to engulf the PTI government in a crisis that, sadly, could have quickly spiralled out of control.

On 11 August 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah famously declared: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

In 71 years, Pakistan has slipped far from Jinnah’s beautiful dream and it is not clear how and when the country can be returned to the inclusive and progressive path that the founding father envisaged.

The PTI has clearly erred in both strategy and political will, but none of the mainstream political parties in the country have emerged from the episode with any credit.

The PPP did not join a Senate resolution calling for Professor Mian’s removal, but neither did the party publicly endorse his appointment. The political class will try and put the latest capitulation behind it quickly, but the effects will surely linger.

The historical record incontrovertibly demonstrates that concessions to religious zealots further erode the space for rational discourse and decision-making.

With profound governance challenges, a divided polity and a political landscape that is plagued by anti-democratic interference and other problems, no one party can take up the challenge of confronting religious extremism.

But as security policymakers debate the political mainstreaming of some extant militant networks, there has been a question whether it is, in fact, extremism that is being mainstreamed in Pakistan.

The religious far right in the country has been mobilised in a manner that ought to worry all right-thinking citizens: short-sighted concessions and manipulations by the state will have far-reaching consequences for society.

Pakistan was, is and will remain a diverse society. Efforts to erase cultural, social and religious differences will not succeed because the population is vast and the country large. But beginning at the margins, it is possible to make life intolerable for a growing number of people, if hate is not purposefully and determinedly countered.

A brilliant mind has been prevented from serving his country; what hope is there for the average citizen in the face of intolerance and organised hostility? Jinnah’s Pakistan is tolerant, progressive, inclusive and democratic. Will Pakistan’s leadership return to the vision of the founding father?