M A I N   N E W S

CM to raise gurdwara upkeep issue
Gets warm welcome in Pakistan
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Wagah, January 30
Amid drum beating, the Government of West Punjab rolled out a red carpet for Capt Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister, when he crossed the Radcliff line here today. Mr Parvaij Elahi, Chief Minister, West Punjab, and his Cabinet colleagues were present on the other side of the border to accord a rousing welcome to the guests.

Capt Amarinder Singh described Wagah as “the gateway to happiness and prosperity of the region”.

Addressing a press conference before crossing over to Pakistan, Capt Amarinder Singh said he would take up issues like renovation of Sikh shrines with his Pakistani counterpart. He said though the SGPC had not authorised him to take up the matter, yet being a true Sikh he would consider his duty to get gurdwaras in Pakistan renovated on a priority basis.

He said, “My visit to Lahore is a pilgrimage for me. Pilgrimages are not only religious journeys but cultural journeys as well and Lahore is a central pillar in the edifice of the composite Punjabi culture.” The Chief Minister said he would not discuss the matter of getting Sikh youths released from Pakistani jails as the issue did not fall under his jurisdiction. He said he would neither meet Gen Pervez Musharraf nor the Prime Minister of Pakistan and hence his visit would be limited to promotion of Punjabi culture and language. He said he would urge his Pakistani counterpart to arrange a student exchange programme between Panjab University, Lahore, and universities in Indian Punjab.

He said he was going to Pakistan to establish cordial relations between the two Punjabs, besides exploring avenues of bilateral trade. He said he was keen on discussing certain economic issues with the Lahore Chamber of Trade and Commerce at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow regarding the possibility of opening trade in foodgrains and other crops between the two states. He said wheat was being sold at Rs 670 per quintal in the state whereas it was Rs 1,260 per quintal in Pakistan. Similarly, the quality of Pakistani cotton was far better than Indian. Once trade was permitted, Punjab could import cotton from Pakistan and export wheat to the Pakistani Punjab.

Asked whether it was within the domain of the state government to initiate a dialogue for opening trade, Capt Amarinder Singh said he was simply making an effort in this direction with a hope of reviving trade and commerce between the two states to strengthen economic ties. He said if there was a positive response from the other side, he would take up the matter with the Union Government.

Asked if he would raise the issue of bringing back certain ancient epics and rare manuscripts from Lahore University to Punjab, he replied in the affirmative. He said he was in favour of a cultural exchange programme between the two states.

Capt Amarinder Singh is the first Chief Minister of Punjab to have been officially invited to Lahore.

Apart from the Chief Minister, the 10-member Punjab delegation comprises Mr Partap Singh Bajwa, Public Works Minister; Mr Avtar Henry, Food and Civil Supplies Minister; Mr Jasjit Randhawa, Minister for Public Health; Mr Surinder Singla, MLA; Rana Gurmit Singh, Political Secretary to the Chief Minister; Mr Jai Singh Gill, Chief Secretary, Mr D.S. Jaspal, Principal Secretary, Public Relations, Tourism and Culture; Mr Parag Jain, DIG CM Security; and Ananya Gautam, SP, CM Security.

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