The mood inside the Punjab Banquet Hall in Surrey was upbeat on Sunday (November 24) afternoon as people of Indian and Pakistani origin started pouring in to celebrate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji, the founder of Sikh religion.
Among the audience was the Pakistani consul-general in Vancouver, Dr. Mohammad Tariq. The organizers from Akal Sewa Foundation invited him to honour the Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, in absentia. After all, Khan recently opened the corridor leading to Kartarpur Sahib where Nanak spent final years of his life. The place has been separated from Indian Sikhs because of the religious division between India and Pakistan in 1947.
Though the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is very close to the Indo-Pak border, it remained inaccessible to Sikhs on the Indian side.
Since this year marks the 550th birth anniversary of Nanak, Khan indicated some time ago that he would open a corridor for the convenience of Sikh pilgrims on this auspicious occasion. Sikhs have been praying for years as part of their daily ritual for direct access to all their historic gurdwaras in Pakistan that were separated from them by partition.
Khan’s gesture has not only won the hearts of the Sikhs all over the world, but has raised hopes for friendly relations between two hostile neighbours that have fought two major wars. There were tensions between the two sides early this year following a suicide attack that left 40 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir.
The right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government instantly blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Kashmiri insurgents, who have been fighting for the right to self-determination. India launched surgical air strikes aimed at the alleged bases of militants inside Pakistan.
Even at that time, Khan displayed exceptional leadership after one of the Indian Air Force pilots captured by Pakistanis was returned to India. This was to give peace a chance.
It was not surprising to see so many Sikhs coming out on Sunday at the Surrey event to express their gratitude to Khan. Two weeks ago, Dr. Tariq was also honoured by the management of Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Surrey-Delta during the celebration of Guru Nanak Devji’s birth anniversary. This too was in recognition of Khan’s efforts.
Unfortunately, BJP supporters continue to remain skeptical about Khan. Its apologists claim Khan is trying to win over Sikhs and encourage them to fight for a separate homeland.
So much so that Navjot Singh Sidhu, an opposition Congress party leader who played a role in the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, came under vicious attack by BJP supporters who accused him of hobnobbing with an enemy. They not only branded him as "antinational", but some of them threatened to kill him. Both Sidhu and Khan have a rapport as both are former cricketers whose paths crossed many times.
Perhaps blinded by hatred, the Hindu Right has chosen to gloss over the fact that Pakistan's government decided to reopen and restore 400 Hindu temples.
Ironically, Pakistan which is a theocratic Islamic state, has tried to set a better example. India, otherwise known as the world’s largest secular democracy, has largely responded with either hateful rhetoric or cynicism.
The Kartarpur development coincided with a recent shameful verdict delivered by the Indian Supreme Court. The apex Indian court unanimously gave disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindus.
It is the site where an ancient mosque stood before December 6, 1992, when Hindu mobs instigated by BJP leaders razed it to the ground. The BJP has been claiming that the mosque was built by Muslim rulers after they destroyed a Hindu temple that stood at the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods.
Even though that remains debatable, the Indian judiciary fell into the trap of majoritarian politics and delivered a verdict that advanced the BJP's political objectives. Indian courts have so far failed to convict the leaders involved in the mob's conduct. Rather than giving any justice to the aggrieved community, the Supreme Court asked Muslims to build their mosque elsewhere.
Whereas the Indian judiciary dashed all hopes for minorities, especially Muslims who continue to face violence at the hands of BJP foot soldiers, Khan has established that secularism cannot necessary be guaranteed by a constitution but can still thrive with strong political will. A case in point is Khan's sacking of a Pakistani minister, Fayyazul Chohan, in March.
Chohan was removed from the post of information minister for hate speech against Hindus.
Meanwhile, the BJP government in New Delhi continues to patronize ministers, MPs, and MLAs who have been spewing venom against minorities with impunity.
It’s time that the world recognizes Khan’s actions—which speak louder than words—and gives him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, he is just another politician and not a perfect soul, but that also applies to other recipients of this esteemed prize. In fact, some of them caused major embarrassment by their actions after getting it.