It is fitting that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be part of the first jatha or group of pilgrims led by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur through the new India-Pakistan visa-free corridor. As head of government, from 2004 to 2014, Singh had built on the previous Vajpayee government’s efforts to arrive at a modus vivendi with Pakistan. His famous “breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, dinner in Kabul” formulation provided a vision that was at once progressive as well as deeply-rooted in the history and shared cultures of the region. Circumstances, including the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that originated in Pakistan and was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, intervened to ensure that it would remain a vision too far. But the Kartarpur corridor is a step in that direction, even if neither India nor Pakistan acknowledge it as such anymore. It recognises that with political will, two nations can find common cause around a line on a map, though each may have its own reasons for doing so. That neither side called off work on the corridor through nine months of an outrightly hostile atmosphere, starting with Pulwama, right up to the face-off at the UN last month, speaks of the interests involved — Pakistan is wooing Sikhs; India does not want to alienate them. But it is not unlike the pragmatism that shaped Manmohan Singh’s belief that it was in the interests of both peoples for India and Pakistan to find ways to live together.
Amarinder Singh has sought to clarify that he and Manmohan Singh would only go to the Darbar Sahib shrine, “not to Pakistan”, and underlined that the former PM will be going on the pilgrimage at his invitation, not on the invitation of Pakistan. Yet it is undeniable that the Kartarpur corridor would not have taken shape without Pakistan’s active co-operation. Indeed, it was Pakistan that initiated the plan last year. Now, having gone this far, India must show the large-heartedness to participate in the official opening of the corridor organised by the government of Pakistan.
It is as yet unclear who other than the former PM and the Punjab CM is part of the first jatha. Ideally, considering the political will that the Modi government extended to the corridor plan through the year, it should include representatives of the Akali Dal and BJP. That will also ensure that a visit to Darbar Sahib by members of one party does not get projected as a crime against the nation.