NEW DELHI: All hurdles in the way of giving Sikh pilgrims access to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, where Guru Nanak Dev breathed his last and which now lies in Pakistan, would be cleared, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said here on Monday.
"There are challenges. The controversies created by Pakistan are not important. It is important that all devotees get free access to the gurdwara. You cannot think big with a small mind," Naqvi asserted at the release of "The Blessing Seeker", a coffee table book on the important Sikh shrines in India.
In the latest twist to the issue, Pakistan has proposed to levy a visa fee of $20 on the Kartarpur corridor, located across the Ravi river from the Sikh shrine of Dera Babak Nanad on the Indian side of the frontier. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has reacted sharply to this, terming the tax a "jazia" (that which is levied on non-Muslims).
Pakistan muddied the waters even further on Monday, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be invited for the inauguration of the corridor on November 9. Pakistan has so far remained silent on whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be invited for the event. India has refrained from commenting on the issue.
Naqvi also said the government had done much to spread the message of Guru Nanak Dev ahead of his 550th birth anniversary on November 12.
"The removal of 312 names (of Sikhs) from the black list (prohibiting them from entering India) is one such decision. There are others also," Naqvi said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday clarified that his government had merely sent to the Union Home Ministry a list of all long-term TADA prisoners and had no role in the Centre's reported decision to release Chief Minister Beant Singh's killer or any other particular prisoner.
His government had only sent the list of 17 prisoners held under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in Punjab, as required by the Centre, which had taken an independent decision on the release of the prisoners, the Chief Minister said in Ludhiana.
He also said the state government was yet to receive the names of the nine prisoners whom the Union Home Ministry had decided to grant special exemption.
Amarinder Singh was responding to reporters on the Congress' stand on media reports suggesting that former Chief Minister Beant Singh's killer, Balwant Singh Rajoana, was among the eight prisoners that the Centre had decided to release as a humanitarian gesture on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Noting that two important Sikh shrines, Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib, had fallen on the Pakistan side of the frontier after Partition, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs and Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said "someone at some stage" should have prevailed upon the cartographer who drew the line to ensure that these gurdwaras were on this side of the border, hastening to add: "I am not making a political statement."
He also noted that today's buzzwords of women's empowerment, climate change and sustainable development formed the essence of Guru Nanak Dev's teachings.
"So is the concept of a classless society (embedded in the teachings). Guru Nanak spoke of a decent and humane society. The tenets of caste were never there in the original concept of Hinduism," Puri maintained.
The event started with a rendering of the "Mool Mantra" that begins the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, and is repeated in it more than a 100 times, by internationally acclaimed singer Minu Bakshi. Interestingly, all the five musicians accompanying her were Muslims.
Authored by globally reputed journalist and travel writer Inder Raj Ahluwalia and with photorgaphs by Malkiat Singh, the book has been produced by Sterling Publishers.