The mood inside the Punjab Banquet Hall in Surrey was upbeat on Sunday, November 24 afternoon, as people of Indian and Pakistani origin started pouring in to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji, the founder of the Sikh religion.
Among the audience was the Pakistani Consulate General in Vancouver,Dr. Mohammad Tariq. The organizers from Akal Sewa Foundation had invited him to honour the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in absentia. After all, Khan has recently opened the corridor leading to Kartarpur Sahib, where Nanak had spent the final years of his life. The place had been separated from the Indian Sikhs because of the religious division between India and Pakistan in 1947. Though the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is very close to the Indo-Pak border, it had remained inaccessible to the Sikhs on the Indian side.
Since this year marks the 550th birth anniversary of Nanak, Khan had indicated, some time ago, that he would open a corridor for the convenience of the Sikh pilgrim on this auspicious occasion. The Sikhs have been praying for years, as a part of their daily ritual, for a direct access to all their historic gurdwaras in Pakistan,which were separated from them during partition.
Khan’s gesture has not only won the hearts of the Sikhs all over the world, but has raised hopes for friendly relations between the two hostile neighbours, which have fought two major wars. There were tensions between the two sides early this year, following a suicide attack that left 40 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir. The right wing Hindu nationalist BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) government had instantly blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Kashmiri insurgents, who have been fighting for the right to self-determination. India had launched surgical strikes, aimed at the alleged bases of militants inside Pakistan. Even at that time, Khan had displayed exceptional leadership after one of the Indian Air Force pilots captured by Pakistanis was returned to India to give peace a chance.
It was not surprising to see so many Sikhs coming out on Sunday, at the Surrey event, to express their gratitude to Khan. Two weeks ago, Dr. Tariq was also honoured by the management of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Surrey-Delta, during the celebration of Guru Nanak Devji’s birth anniversary, to recognize Khan’s efforts.
Unfortunately, the BJP supporters continue to remain sceptical of Khan. Its apologists claim that Khan is trying to win over the Sikhs and encourage them to fight for a separate homeland. So much so, thatNavjot Singh Sidhu, an opposition Congress party leader, who was partly instrumental in the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, came under vicious attack by the BJP supporters, who accused him of hobnobbing with an enemy. They not only branded him as ‘anti-national’, but some of them also threatened to kill him. Both Sidhu and Khan have a rapport as both are former cricketers whose paths had crossed many times.
Perhaps, blinded by hatred, the Hindu Right has chosen to gloss over the fact that Pakistan government has decided to restore 400 temples to Hindus as well. Ironically, Pakistan, which is a theocratic Islamic state, has tried to set a better example, while India, that is otherwise known as world’s largest secular democracy, has largely responded with either hateful rhetoric or cynicism.
The Kartarpur development coincided with the shameful verdict delivered by the Indian Supreme Court. The apex Indian court unanimously gave the disputed land of Ayodhyato the Hindus. It is the same site where an ancient mosque once stood, before December 6, 1992, when Hindu mobs, instigated by the BJP leaders, razed it to the ground. The BJP has been claiming that the mosque was built by the Muslim rulers after destroying a temple,which stood at the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods. Even though that remains debatable, the Indian judiciary fell into the trap of majoritarian politics and gave a verdict that works for BJP. The Indian courts have, so far, failed to convict the leaders involved. Rather than giving any justice to the aggrieved community, the Supreme Court asked the Muslims to build their mosque elsewhere and gave the land to the Hindus.
Whereas the Indian judiciary dashed all hopes of minorities, especially Muslims, who continue to face violence at the hands of BJP foot soldiers, Khan has established that secularism cannot necessary be guaranteed by a constitution but with a strong political will. A case in point is the sacking of a Pakistani minister,FayyazulChohan, by Khan in March. Chohan was removed from the post of Information minister for a hate speech against Hindus, while the BJP government continues to patronize ministers, MPs and MLAs who have been spewing venom against minorities with impunity.
It is time that the world recognizes Khan’s actions, which speak louder than words, and gives him the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, he is just another politician and not a perfect soul, but that also applies to other recipients of this esteemed prize. Some of them caused major embarrassment by their actions after getting the award.