By Jaideep Sarin
Dera Baba Nanak (Punjab), Nov 26 (IANS) A massive political slug-fest was played out on Monday in full public view, shoving protocol to the side in the presence of Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as political leaders from opposing sides in Punjab bared it at what was meant to be solemn celebration related to the Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara corridor project.
Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday laid the digital foundation stone of a road project that will link the Kartarpur corridor (in Pakistan) by pressing a button.
The actual foundation stone was removed by the authorities just three hours before the event after Punjab cabinet Minister and local legislator Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa objected to the names of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal on the foundation stone.
A clearly upset Randhawa announced that he would ‘boycott’ the foundation stone ceremony and even put black tape on the stone where the names of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Punjab PWD Minister Vijay Singla and his own (Randhawa) were put on the foundation stone along with the names of the Badals.
Officials of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), sensing that the situation could get unpleasant in the presence of dignitaries, removed the foundation stone and replaced it with the digital one.
The foundation on the screen carried the names of Vice President Naidu, Punjab Governor V.P. Singh Badnore, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Though the ceremony was to celebrate the approval of the governments of India and Pakistan to allow the Kartarpur corridor to enable people to pray at the gurdwara in Pakistan, leaders of the Akali Dal and its ally BJP on one side and Punjab’s ruling Congress on the other not only indulged in running each other down and claiming credit for getting the project cleared but even raised slogans against each other in the presence of the Vice President.
Harsimrat Badal, in her address at the function, took a dig at the Congress leaders over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. There was immediate sloganeering against her by Congress leaders and activists.
When Gurdaspur MP and Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was giving his vote of thanks, he hit back at the Akali Dal leadership by making Punjab a drugs hub. This led to protests and sloganeering by Akali Dal leaders, including Harsimrat’s brother and former Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
Earlier, Randhawa was seen speaking and gesturing angrily to officers making while they made arrangements for the high-profile function.
The Minister, the Congress legislator from Dera Baba Nanak, was visibly disturbed and shouted at officers. He later told a TV channel: “I will not boycott the function but I will boycott the foundation stone itself. I cannot see my name and those of my ministerial colleagues along with the Badals.”
“The Badals have no contribution in getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared. They ruled Punjab from 1997 to 2002 and again for 10 years (2007-17). Did they come here to offer prayers while in power? They are only trying to take credit (for the Kartarpur corridor) just because they (Akali Dal) have an alliance with the BJP,” the Minister said.
Randhawa blamed the NHAI officers for the foundation stone controversy. He said that he had serious objections to the foundation stone carrying the names of the Badals.
“The sanctity of the function should have been kept. The foundation stone should have carried only the names of the Vice President and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh,” Randhawa said.
The Minister was also upset that the Congress leadership in Punjab, including him (as the local minister and legislator), Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar (the Punjab Congress President) and cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were being deliberately ignored for the function while all attention was being given to the Badal family.
Randhawa’s outburst came even as the SAD-BJP and Congress leaders in Punjab were in the midst of a major controversy in claiming credit for getting the Kartarpur corridor project cleared by the governments of India and Pakistan.
The NDA government at the Centre, of which the SAD is a part, approved the project in Punjab linked to the Kartarpur corridor on November 22. The date of the foundation stone was hurriedly decided for November 26 to ensure that it was done before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the actual Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan on November 28 (Wednesday).
The Congress government in Punjab was going to hold its own function here this week but Chief Minister Amarinder Singh decided to be part of the central government function itself.
The SAD-BJP combine leadership has also been trying hard to take the credit away from state cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu who in August went to Pakistan for the swearing-in of his cricketing friend Imran Khan and was the first to announce that Pakistan was keen to open the Kartarpur corridor for devotees from India.
The Akali Dal leadership, including Harsimrat Badal, branded Sidhu as a ‘traitor’ for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in function. They questioned his statements regarding Pakistan’s move on the Kartarpur corridor.
Harsimrat Badal is now herself headed to Pakistan as the central government’s representative for the foundation stone ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday. Sidhu is also going for the same event.
It was at the Kartarpur gurdwara, which is located around two to three kilometre from the India-Pakistan border and is situated right opposite the border belt in Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, that Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), spent 18 years of his life till he died in 1539.
The gurdwara, which fell in Pakistan territory following the partition of India in 1947, has major significance in Sikh religion and history.
For the past over 71 years, even since partition, Sikhs have been offering prayers near the international border.