The Nijjars, a doctor couple from Batala in Punjab cannot thank enough the friendship of two former cricketers — Sidhu and Imran — which according to them has made possible the opening of a corridor linking revered Sikh shrines in India and Pakistan.
Dr. S.S. Nijjar had come with his wife Dr. Satinder Nijjar to catch a glimpse of the facilities at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district. It is here that a grand passenger terminal building is coming up as part of the Kartarpur corridor, a project that has withstood animosity and tensions between the two nations.
India and Pakistan have built a corridor to connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of the Sikh founder on November 12.
“This dream project to connect the two Sikh shrines has been pending for decades. 99% this became possible due to the friendship between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Imran Khan,” Dr. Nijjar said.
Mr. Sidhu was a special invitee on August 18, 2018, to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa had told Mr. Sidhu that Pakistan hoped to build the corridor. After initially rejecting the offer, the NDA government in India set the ball rolling, and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries for visa-free access to pilgrims.
Similar sentiments were echoed by other visitors. “Only Sidhu made this possible, this was in the works for several years, now they should allow us to visit Nankana Sahib in Pakistan also,” said Ravinder Kaur.
Surender Singh, 65, a farmer from Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan, doesn’t have a passport. He came to Dera Baba Nanak to catch a glimpse of Kartarpur Sahib, around 3.5 km from the zero point at the border.
“They should allow us to visit on Aadhaar card, I am a poor farmer, I neither have a passport nor $20 to give as permit fee,” he said.
As per the MoU, the passport is the requisite document for travel and India has protested the $20 permit fee being charged by Pakistan.
With the deadline to inaugurate the corridor nearing, several workers were engaged to give finishing touches to the terminal building and other infrastructure in the vicinity.
A patrol team of Border Security Force (BSF) sanitised the area before the PM’s visit with mine detecting machines and a little help from sniffer dogs.
Additional policemen had been rushed to the site.
Dara Singh, who sells tea in the vicinity, said the land price had sky-rocketed in the past year.
“People are buying land to build hotels and guest houses, keeping in mind the tourist flow in the coming days. The land here is selling at an extremely high rate,” the tea seller said.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will flag off the first delegation to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.
The delegation led by Punjab CM Capt. Amarinder Singh includes former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
Almost all the houses nearby have been given a fresh coat of paint. The bus stand was refurbished and makeshift tents were put up for the comfort of pilgrims. As per the MoU, around 5,000 pilgrims are expected to cross over to Pakistan every day. They have to return the same day though.
The agreement said that pilgrims who wish to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan will be allowed to carry a maximum of ₹11,000 and a 7-kg bag, and will not be allowed to venture beyond the shrine.