India's Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday laid the foundation stone for the construction of the four-km-long corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district with Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will perform the groundbreaking of the corridor on Wednesday [Nov 28]. The proposal to construct the corridor providing visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims was renewed by Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in August this year.
"The corridor will become a symbol of love and peace between both countries," Naidu was quoted as saying in Gurdaspur by Hindustan Times.
"This is a momentous and historic day [...] we are fulfilling the wish of thousands of Sikh devotees,” he said.
India's Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, however, took a more confrontational tone while speaking at the event and issued a 'warning' to Pakistan to not "vitiate the atmosphere", reported Hindustan Times.
Earlier, Punjab minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa protested against the presence of names of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) leaders on the foundation stone, according to India Today.
Randhawa used tape to black out his own and other Punjab ministers' names on the foundation stone.
"I did this in protest against Parkash and Sukhbir Badal's names on stone. Why is their name here? They are not part of the executive, it is not BJP-Akali event," the minister was quoted as saying.
According to India Today, a controversy erupted right before the foundation stone laying ceremony as cabinet minister of the Punjab government, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, termed the ceremony a "step taken in a hurry".
"The Modi government is going in for laying the foundation stone two days before Pakistan will do the ground-breaking ceremony on their side, without preparing the layout. The hurry was only to pre-empt the ground-breaking ceremony by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 28," claimed Bajwa, who is a member of the Indian National Congress.
He alleged that not only the local Congress leaders, but even the ministers from Gurdaspur district have been "ignored".
Lying dormant due to the tense relations between the two countries since 1988, the proposal to construct the corridor providing visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims had been renewed by Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in August this year.
Earlier, the Pakistan government had invited Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu besides 17 Indian journalists to the Nov 28 Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony.
The invitation was accepted with "unalloyed joy" by Sidhu, who termed the development as "historic". Who added that he had lodged an application with the Ministry of External Affairs for permission to attend the groundbreaking event.
"This day will indeed break ground," Sidhu said in his letter. "As our two nations take this first step, the Kartarpur Spirit can make pilgrims of us all, venturing out on a journey that breaks the barriers of history and opens the borders of the heart and the mind."
Meanwhile, the chief minister of Indian Punjab thanked Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the invitation but declined it in a letter addressed to the foreign minister.
Swaraj had earlier excused herself from attending the ceremony, citing "prior commitments" but had announced that India's Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Shri Hardeep Singh Puri will attend the ceremony in Kartarpur Sahib as representatives of the Indian government.
While the idea was shared by the army chief with the Congress leader and Indian Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu during his visit to Pakistan in August for attending Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony, the Pakistan government announced the date for the groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor only this week after the Indian Union cabinet agreed to avail the offer of the passageway in view of the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith, Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, next year.
According to the proposal, the Indian government will construct and develop the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the border, while Pakistan will build the other part of the corridor connecting the border to the Gurdwara in the Kartarpur Sahib area of Narowal district.