JUST A few yards from the India-Pakistan border on the outskirts of the town, close to the observation point from where the gurdwara in Kartarpur in Pakistan can be seen, a poster with photographs of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the assassins of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — Satwant Singh, Beant Singh and Kehar Singh —is hard to miss.
Pasted on the walls of the BSF shopping complex the poster announces the observation of the 30th anniversary of the ‘Shaheedi Diwas’ (martyrdom day) of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh on January 6, the day both were executed by hanging in Tihar Jail, New Delhi.
The poster is ubiquitous in Dera Baba Nanak since the native village of Satwant Singh, Agwan, is close by. A ‘bhog’ ceremony is held every year in his and his late wife’s memory along with that of the other two Indira assassins. But this year is special with the 30th anniversary and the Kartarpur corridor coming up in the area.
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has cautioned many times in recent days that the Kartarpur corridor could be used by pro-Khalistan elements and Pakistan’s ISI to create trouble in Punjab. But here, deep in the rural heartland of the state, which was once the hotbed of militancy in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, the ‘Shaheedi divas” is just a normal yearly occurance and the advantages of the corridor something to look forward to.
“Business will be good,” is the crisp statement of Beera who is setting up plastic toys on a charpoy under a banyan tree on the roadside near the BSF barrier. He and his partner, Shafi, give credit to Navjot Singh Sidhu for the corridor but with a caveat. “Sidhu da naa vajda chaare paase (Sidhu’s name resounds all around). But it is Baba Nanak who gets things done. He comes in your heart and asks you to do his bidding,” say the duo, both Christians who live in Dera Baba Nanak.
Shafi is not very taken in by what Prime Mnister Narendra Modi has said about Navjot Sidhu during his Gurdaspur rally on January 3. “Sara khed kursi da hai (It is all about the chair). No one wants to leave the chair. They want to stick to it. Even I would not want to leave my chair once I am comfortable in it,” says Beera.
There is nothing on ground to indicate that work on the corridor project is about to start anytime soon. The road alignment to the border has been worked out but the slow pace bothers the locals.
“We see photographs on the Internet showing the fast pace of construction on the Pakistan side but over here only some officials have been coming and doing surveys till now,” says Gurnam Singh of Jaurian Khurd village near the border. He is not concerned about the remembrance ceremony being held as that is more or less ‘routine’. But the corridor is new. He is more concerned about the manner in which compensation for the land acquired for the corridor will be made since there are fields with varying degrees of productivity and rates.
“People will only believe that this (corridor) is a reality when things start happening on ground,” says Sukhwinder Singh, nephew of Satwant Singh, who is organising the ‘Shaheedi Divas” in Agwan Village. “These people should have demarcation of the place and started work till now. They are not doing anything,” says Sukhwinder also manages the Gurdwara at Dera Baba Nanak. He says he got the Gurdwara premises refurbished the moment he heard about the corridor coming up. “Else how do we expect the devotees to pay their respects properly when the corridors comes up,” he says
As for the ceremony being organised on January 6, Sukhwinder says the Hazuri Raagi from Golden Temple will recite the Gurbani and Jathedar of the Akal Takht will be present along with the head of Damdami Taksal, Harnam Singh Dhumma.
Back at the border observation point atop the defensive ‘bandh’ along the International border, visitors trickle in for ‘Darshan’ of the Gurdwara in Pakistan. They cannot see beyond half a km because of the thick fog but the devotees bow in reverance and leave.
With his young son in tow, Harwant Singh has come from the nearby Kala Aghana village for the ‘Darshan’. A farmer, he hopes the corridor will boost the land rates in the area which till recently have seen a slump.
“It should do good. For transport, eateries, hotels and other businesses. Those who criticize it are doing this because they are in opposition. Sidhu has done a good job. If he were such a bad person would people have voted for him after he came over from BJP? Changey kamm nu changa kehna chayida hai (Good work should be called good),”