Tug-of-war over Prakash Purb of Guru Nanak celebrations

Chandigarh, Oct 28 (IANS) An unholy tussle between the Punjab government and the Akali Dal-controlled SGPC over the celebrations of the 550th Prakash Purb of Guru Nanak Dev next month is casting a shadow over the holy once-in-a-lifetime spiritual extravaganza that will see congregation of followers of Sikhism from across the globe.

The Congress-ruled state wants to take full credit for the celebrations that will see the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah and President Ram Nath Kovind. However, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is eyeing to take a political mileage, saying only the SGPC is authorised to hold religious functions.

The Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), considered a mini parliament of Sikh religious affairs, has control over Sikh religious affairs and manages gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, including the holiest of Sikh shrines Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district, where the Sikhism founder is believed to have attained enlightenment, is at the centrestage of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of the founder of the Sikh religion. The entire town is currently being painted white by the SGPC.

In a latest move to break the impasse on joint celebrations, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh proposed that the SGPC should join the state government’s November 12 event, to be attended by the President.

He said the main function on November 11 in Sultanpur Lodhi, where the Union Home Minister is expected, could be held under the purview of the religious body.

The suggestion was made by the Chief Minister at his meeting with SGPC President Gobind Singh Longowal.

An official spokesperson told IANS that the Chief Minister expressed his concern, during the meeting, about the lack of unity on this historic occasion, especially in view of the participation of high-ranking dignitaries such as the President and the Prime Minister in various events.

Underlining the embarrassment that this would cause to all concerned, Amarinder Singh noted the Sikh community has always remained united in such celebrations in the past.

He warned that any deviation from the past practice would cause irreparable damage to the community.

Longowal apprised the Chief Minister about the decision of the Union Home Minister and the President to visit Sultanpur Lodhi on November 11 and 12, respectively.

In response, the Chief Minister suggested that the SGPC stage inside the gurdwara precincts at Sultanpur Lodhi may be used as the common stage on November 11, with the state government also participating in the celebration there.

However, since November 12 would have the President participating in the programme, it was apt for the state government to host the head of the state, in keeping with his status, Amarinder Singh proposed.

This, said the Chief Minister, would help clear the confusion prevailing among the people about the main events, and would also send a positive message of unity among the Sikh community.

Longowal assured the Chief Minister that the SGPC would consider the proposal and revert, said the spokesperson.

As a special gesture, a meeting of the Punjab Cabinet was held at Sultanpur Lodhi where the ongoing work relating to the celebrations were also reviewed.

Last week, the Chief Minister laid the foundation stone for the 109-km-long circular ‘Prakash Purb Marg’ from Sultanpur Lodhi to Dera Baba Nanak, close to the Kartarpur Corridor, to be constructed by the state at a cost of Rs 103 crore, besides announcing a new Rs 13 crore state-of-the-art bus stand for Batala, another historic city.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on many occasions hit out at Akali leaders Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sukhbir Badal for “deliberately putting obstacles” in the way of coordination between the state government and the SGPC for the joint celebrations.

“What kind of Akalis are they? Definitely not the Taksali Akalis of the founding party,” he has said.

The Chief Minister rejected the Akalis’ claim that it was the SGPC job to conduct the Prakash Purb celebrations, pointing out that their jurisdiction lay only within the holy sanctorum sanctum.

Outside the precincts, it was the government’s prerogative, he has said.

At his media interactions, Amarinder Singh is clear in saying that his government is working closely with the Centre to ensure that all infrastructure and other works for the historic event are completed well in time.

On the contrary, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur is saying the state has “gone blind in arrogance” to the extent that it considers itself above the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs.

Just ahead of the celebrations at Sultanpur Lodhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9 and dispatch the first lot of pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab province on the occasion of the birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.

The Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, originally known as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, is a highly revered Sikh shrine where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years of his life and is his final resting place.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be a part of the Sikh delegation led by Amarinder Singh to pay obeisance at the shrine and return the same day.

The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province is located 4.5 km from the border near Dera Baba Nanak.

The shrine will be accessible to Indian pilgrims throughout the year via the Kartarpur Corridor.

Everyday 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit the holy shrine. India will share the list of pilgrims 10 days before their visit. Pakistan will verify the list and finalise it four days before their visit.

The 4.2 km-long corridor from the Indian side will be completed by October 31, a week before the celebrations begin.

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