(Kartar Singh, 70, sings outside the gurdwara Saturday. (Express photo by Rana Simranjit Singh)
‘MANU PAR Langha Deo Ji, Datteya Minta Terian Karda (Öh Lord, I am begging you, again and again, to take me across ).
For the past three years, 70-year-old Kartar Singh has been a fixture outside a gurdwara at the international border here, sitting under a tree, playing the harmonium and riffing on the famous ‘Sohni-Mahiwal’ love song as he pleads with Guru Nanak to let him visit Kartarpur Sahib, just 4.5 km across in Pakistan. In the past few weeks, he says, he has seen more visitors to this spot than at any time in the last two years.
Border Security Force (BSF) guards also confirmed that in the month since Navjot Singh Sidhu returned from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony and announced that Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had told him that Pakistan was ready to open a visa-free corridor to Kartarpur Sahib, the number of visitors to Dera Baba Nanak has gone up.
“The flow of tourists has increased since this controversy erupted. There is an increase in the number of visitors who are coming to see this place just because they heard about it in the news. Around 1,200 visitors have been coming daily on weekdays. This Saturday and Sunday, we are expecting a flow of nearly 2,000 people,” said a BSF official who requested that he not be identified by name.
The BSF has set up a small platform where the visitors, who include both the devout as well as tourists, can view the white tomb of the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, built at the spot where Guru Nanak is believed to have been cremated. While the tomb is visible to the naked eye on a clear day, the BSF jawans at the post also hand out binoculars to those who want a closer look.
On Saturday though, there was poor visibility due to rain and an overcast sky. Adding to the disappointment of a large number of visitors was the news of the cancellation of the meeting in New York between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, dashing hopes that the much talked about visa-free corridor to the gurdwara would be open soon.
“Not a good day,” said Resham Singh, who has come from Muktsar along with his family.” First, the news that India and Pakistan are not meeting, and then Kartarpur Sahib is not visible even with binoculars.”
A truck full of devotees came from Ghuman village in Gurdaspur in the afternoon.
“I have been here before. Sad that the gurdwara is not visible today. My grandfather has told me that earlier people used to cross the Ravi by boat, and there is a road that takes you to the gurdwara. So roads are already there on both sides and if a bridge can be constructed on Ravi then the corridor is complete. I don’t know why governments are not responding,” said Kultar Singh (55), who came in the truck with other villagers.
“Kings are kings. You cannot predict them. One day they may be happy and the other day they are angry. It is true that soldiers are dying on both sides on the border. But these things don’t matter. What matters are the interests of the king,” said 70-year-old Ram Singh, who had come with his family from Ludhiana.
Kartar Singh, the singer under the tree, who lives on the money given to him by devotees for his singing, also sounded dejected. “Over the past few days, I felt like my prayers had been heard. But we are back to square one,” he said.
Beera Singh, who runs a shop near the gurdwara, said people had begun rushing to the border in the last few days. “Many were under the impression that the border is already open. There was excitement in air. But yesterday’s development has disappointed us all,”
Near the gurdwara where Kartar Singh belts out his prayers, is a signboard, put up by Bhai Bishan Singh Gorayea, a well-known activist for the opening of the Kartarpur corridor. Written in Punjabi, the signboard, accuses the government of not making required efforts to open the corridor due to a “conspiracy” against Sikhs.
The board says the Indian government has negotiated with China for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra despite all the border problems between them but delays the opening of the Kartarpur corridor even though Pakistan is ready for it because Sikhs are a minority.
Sukhdeep Singh Bedi, who claims to be a direct descendant of Guru Nanak Dev ji and runs a hospital in Dera Baba Nanak, has arranged for binoculars and other facilities at the border for devotees.
Bedi said, “It has not happened for the first time. Every time when we feel that now demand of corridor will be met, there is some issue. This time everyone was hoping our prayers would come true. Sikh prayers include the request for trouble-free access to all gurdwaras separated by the partition and we are hopeful that these prayers will be answered.”
Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala from Nakodar is a son of former SAD MLA Kuldeep Singh Wadala. For the past 18 years, Kuldeep Singh Wadala would go to Dera Baba Nanak every month to pray for the corridor before he died in June this year.
Gurpartap Singh Wadala said, “My father had started this mission and he made 209 visits along with Sikh Sangat to pray for a corridor. Now I am carrying forward his mission. We are definitely disappointed with the cancellation of talks. I also feel that my party should have used the contribution of my father to cause to balance the claims made by Navjot Singh Sidhu to take credit for the opening of a corridor. I made individual efforts to bring out the contribution made by my father during this controversy. But definitely, my party would have played better on this issue by recognizing the contribution of my father.
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