Wednesday, November 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

PM clears Sikh jatha
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 12
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave the green signal here tonight for a token jatha of 50 persons to visit Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to take part in the birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev on November 19.

As a special one-time gesture, the jatha has been allowed to go to Pakistan via road through the Wagah border near Amritsar.

Mr Vajpayee approved the proposal for a token jatha to visit Nankana Sahib in Pakistan after discussions with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani who had considered the matter in its entirety and felt that permission may be granted.

Despite reservations in various quarters in the BJP-led NDA government on allowing a jatha to visit Nankana Sahib because of the strained relations between India and Pakistan, the Central leadership has taken cognisance of the sentiments of the Sikh community.

Besides, the absence of a jatha from India will provide another lever to the authorities in Pakistan to whip up anti-India sentiments when the Sikh diaspora from all over the world congregates at Nankana Sahib.

Suggestions that the jatha be first flown to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then taken to Lahore was stoutly resisted by National Commission for Minorities Vice-Chairman Tarlochan Singh and other leaders of the Sikh community.

They argued that such a step will again lead to avoidable complications as the time on hand was short. Under the circumstances, with rail link between the two neighbours being disrupted it is best to cross into Pakistan from the Wagah border.

The Central leadership found merit in this argument and decided that they were allowing the jatha to enter Pakistan from the Wagah border “only once and this time alone due to the exceptional circumstances.”

Mr Tarlochan Singh spoke to Mr Vajpayee, Mr Advani, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra and other senior officials during the day urging that permission for the token jatha needs to be granted expeditiously. The file containing the proposal for sending a token jatha to Pakistan for Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary celebrations has been shuttling between the Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs since the Divali week of November 4.

With permission having been granted at the highest executive level for a jatha to visit Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, the process of informing the SGPC in Amritsar will be taken up.

After the SGPC’s recommendations are vetted and cleared by the Union Home Ministry, they will have to apply for visas for travelling to Pakistan.

The jatha wants to position itself in Nankana Sahib on November 16 for making the necessary preparations for Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary.

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