NEW DELHI: In a quibble that is characteristic of the two countries, former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh will visit the Guru Nanak celebrations in Pakistan on the invitation of Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, an indirect way of saying that Pakistan’s invitation to the Indian leader was not a factor.

An announcement to this effect was made on Thursday by the chief minister’s office.

A subtext of the reported move could become an even more important development. Mr Amarinder Singh was quoted by the Times of India as saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Natha Kovind had accepted his invitation to be part of the event. The report was sufficiently vague about whether Mr Modi or Mr Kovind would visit Kartarpur without a formal invitation from Pakistan.

According to NDTV, Dr Singh would visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan for the birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak as part of an all-party group. It quoted Mr Amarinder Singh as telling reporters that Prime Minister Modi and President Kovind had also been invited to the event and both had accepted “the state government’s invitation to be a part of the historic celebrations”.

According to Raveen Thukral, an aide of Amarinder Singh, quoted by NDTV online, Dr Singh accepted the invite to join the first Jatha- or all-party group — to the Kartarpur Gurudwara on Nov 9. He will also visit Sultanpur Lodhi for the main celebration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, on Nov 12. The jatha will be led by the chief minister.

But Amarinder Singh, aka “Captain”, clarified that the group would only go to the Kartarpur gurdwara and not for the launch of the Kartarpur corridor. “There is no question of me going (to Pakistan for the Kartarpur corridor opening) and I feel Dr Manmohan Singh will not go as well,” he said. The quibble is politically loaded since Mr Singh’s Congress party rival and former cricketer Navjot Sidhu had set off the idea of the Kartarpur corridor as a road to peace.

The chief minister visited Dr Singh in Delhi to invite him to join the delegation to the renowned Sikh shrine on the other side of the border.

Dr Singh, who was born in Gah Village in the part of Punjab that is now in Pakistan, never visited the country in his 10 years as prime minister. During his tenure, tensions between the neighbours peaked after the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai.

Last week, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said his government would invite the former PM to the launch of the Kartarpur corridor, which will facilitate the movement of Indian pilgrims to Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak.

Dr Singh’s office had reportedly said he would reject any such invite from Pakistan.

The Kartarpur corridor is being built by India and Pakistan in Pakistan’s Kartarpur and connects to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab. The corridor aims at facilitating visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims who will just need a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib located across the Ravi river, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2019