THE PUNJAB Assembly passed a resolution Friday, suggesting swapping of land with Pakistan to bring the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara across the border within Indian territory.
Congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor initiative, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the proposed corridor would be “a bridge of peace”, but reiterated that he would go there only when Pakistan stops weaponising Kashmiri terrorist groups in Kashmir and “ISI stops designs to spread terror in Punjab.”
Members of opposition parties, Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal, however, reacted sharply to Amarinder Singh’s remarks made in Punjab Vidhan Sabha while moving the resolution on the corridor, urging him not to link the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor issue with terrorism.
BJP MLA Som Parkash and Congress MLA Raj Kumar Verka, however, said Amarinder Singh’s concerns cannot be ignored.
The resolution was initially aimed at praising the efforts of the Punjab government and the Centre for opening a cross-border passage to facilitate Indian Sikh pilgrims in visiting the gurdwara on the banks of Ravi river in Pakistan. But Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, during a discussion on the resolution in the House, demanded that land swap with Pakistan be made a part of the resolution. The House accepted it and passed the resolution unanimously.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, MLA from Dera Baba Nanak, from where the corridor is proposed to start, suggested land from his constituency could be handed over to Pakistan in the swap.
At least four MLAs, including two of Congress, praised Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on the issue. Sidhu sat patiently listening to the discussions. He was seen thumping the bench as CM read out the resolution. The resolution read, “This House records its appreciation for the efforts made by the Government of Punjab and Government of India to open Kartarpur Corridor and urges upon the Government of India to hasten completion of works to operationalise the corridor well before the 550th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in November 2019 in keeping with the long pending demand of Punjabis, while ensuring that hard earned peace of Punjab is not disturbed in any manner.”
An AAP MLA during the debate took exception to inclusion of “ensuring that hard-earned peace of Punjab is not disturbed in any manner” in the resolution, saying it should not have been linked to the Corridor.
Later, the Vidhan Sabha also decided to include in the resolution demand for land swap with Pakistan to have shrine swapped to the Indian side after SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal mooted the suggestion and Vidhan Sabha members agreed to it.
In his address, Amarinder Singh said, “I am Sikh and Chief Minister. [As CM] my duty is to safeguard the state,” he said referring to busting of busting of “Pakistani terror modules and arrest of terrorists sent by Pakistan.” This is not done. I will take all the harshest measures. I will not let bloodshed happen again in Punjab,” Amarinder said, pointing out that “35,000 Punjabis were killed in 20-year bloodshed earlier.”
Amarinder Singh said he was a devout Sikh who held religion in reverence and was very happy as pilgrims would be able to visit the Sikh shrine where Guru Nanak Dev spent his last 18 years. “On the other side, there is my Punjab. I will not let more blood spill,” he said, adding that there was “politics to mislead” by SAD president to suggest that he was opposed to the corridor.
Describing Kartarpur Sahib Corridor project as “Army project and not Imran Khan project”, Amarinder Singh said newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan should “rein in Pakistani army”. He added if Pakistan did not rein in its army, the initiative by India will not fructify.
Amarinder Singh urged the opposition to work in unison with the government for the safety of Punjab.
However, speaking immediately after Amarinder Singh’s address, SAD legislator Gurpartap Singh Wadala said “There is no ground for militancy in Punjab. There is no space for ISI and Pakistan to play. Kashmir is the only issue between India and Pakistan. There is no link to militancy with the corridor,” said Wadala, adding that people were so happy as if one announcement [on corridor] had ended enmity [between India and Pakistan].
On this, Amarinder Singh said Pakistan had a “sinister design”. He said, “Pakistani army intends to increase the activity. Every Sikh is happy with the announcement and [in the process] there is sympathy for Pakistan. This will lead to increase in recruitment [for the terror acts]. Keep religion on one side. See the strategic attitude, see what Pakistani army wants to do.”
Praising Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on the issue, AAP MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan said, “As long as there is hatred between the two nations, there cannot be peace.” He said not everyone could be associated with Pakistani army. AAP MLA said Punjab should send a message of love and “for others we have our defence forces”. He also dismissed apprehensions of terror recruitment saying “Sikh can never be traitor and recruitment fears are unfounded. Sikhs are most faithful and trustworthy.”
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “We should not create negativity in this good cause. None can stop those who want to carry out terror act. A terrorist has no religion. But, an impression of distrust should not go [over the issue],” Sukhbir said, adding that already there was movement from Wagah where even trucks cross the border. SAD president added, “Indian government will ensure foolproof security”.
AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu was also critical of Amarinder Singh for raising “doubts” over the initiative. He said Amarinder had “selective memory” and not only Imran Khan, but sucessive prime ministers of Pakistan had been staking claim over Kashmir. Similarly, he said LoC firing had been there for decades. He asked Amarinder if LoC firing was not there when during his previous stint as chief minister he took peace initiatives like games between the two Punjabs. Sandhu pointed out that it were Hindu militants and not Pakistani militants who had carried out blast in Samjhauta Express which runs between India and Pakistan. “Raising doubts is not good thing,” he added.
BJP MLA Som Parkash said in the wake of office of Khalistan in Pakistan and photos of likes of Gopal Singh Chawla with terrorists in Pakistan, “we cannot write off CM’s apprehensions”. He said Pakistan had never been sincere.
Congress MLA Raj Kumar Verka said, “CM’s apprehensions are not his alone, but of people across the country.” (With inputs from PTI)