I was born in Aldinpur, a kilometre from Tarn Taran, Punjab. The township was founded by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, who stayed there for 25 years, till he was tortured and martyred by Emperor Jahangir in Lahore. I believe that Guru Nanak is the “daata” of everything in Sikhism, but Guru Nanak and Sikhism would have disappeared a century after him, but for the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan. His father Ram Das initiated the construction of the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, but he died soon after. Guru Arjan compiled the Granth Sahib, completed the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar and installed the Guru Granth Sahib there. If there were no Guru Arjan and the Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak’s teachings would have faded and only legends might have remained of a great and pious teacher.
His field of action was West Punjab, beyond the Ravi, in a predominantly Muslim population. I prefer, to call him Baba Nanak, a more loving and affectionate term. None of the later gurus were so addressed. I said in Parliament and repeat: that the 1947 Partition was not of India, but of the Punjab. We lost all the rich canal colonies and were cleaned out from the West. The Sikhs with their fortitude made a new life in the East, in a poor and limited land.
I believe Baba Nanak is doing this for us, in this year of remembrance. Yes, since the 15th of August, 1947, all Sikhs in their daily Ardaas prayed that they be allowed to walk to Katarpur. Our prayers have been heard. I thank the people of Pakistan for finally seeing the light
What was the Muslim feeling for Baba Nanak? I have been to Pakistan a number of times with my wife. I asked to be taken to Kartarpur. It was not open to the Sikhs and there was no keenness on either side to do so. On my visit, I traveled alone, with no security – just a friend – for an hour and a half, to Katarpur. Before going, I asked the local MP that I wanted to meet at least about 400 people from surrounding villages. He was happy to oblige. I did this because a few privileged Sikhs had gone there, made their obeisance and come back, with their path to salvation opened. But I believed that Baba Nanak, as all his history shows, was for the masses – most of all, the poor. His primary concern was not the salvation of the privileged.
Therefore, I wanted to meet the Muslim population – the Sikhs having disappeared – and find out their feelings for Baba Nanak. The Gurdwara was small. It stood over a few acres and it had five Sikhs for service. It stood in isolation, away from any village. When I went there, the villagers had come in large numbers. Pilao had been made and charpais laid out. I wanted some singers of Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and others. Three poor men, one blind but all with great voices, sang for me. Great was my surprise on talking to these very poor people. Baba Nanak, without the Sikhs, still had his Shardhalus. They came regularly, in large numbers, to seek his solace, in this Buddhist world of “Dukh”. Baba’s dwar continued to have raunaq.
When I became MP, in 2004, I went for the first time to Dera Baba Nanak, on our side, in Gurdaspur. I was shocked. People came bowed in the dust, cried and went home. In the Punjab Government, officers like me, and all Ministers – Swaran Singh, Gurdayal Singh Dhillon and the rest – simply ignored Dera Baba Nanak. All tours were Chandigarh-Ludhiana-Amritsar and back. Our ruling people, quite simply, neglected the Baba.
Once I realized what I had missed, I began to make continuous demands, in all language papers and in any other way. I demanded that the four-kilometre path be opened, with security wire put on the sides and police on duty on either side. The Sikhs should be allowed, without passports or visas, to walk across, pray and come back. There was indifferent silence on both sides. When I went to Pakistan, I was interviewed as a former Chief Election Commissioner, widely known, in envious Pakistan. Najam Sethi, owner of The Friday Times and a famous TV man, Sohail Warraich another prominent TV personality and others interviewed me again and again (it can be checked on Youtube by anyone today).
While I explained our Election Commission work, I always asked to speak on Katarpur too. I have to say that they gave me free and generous time. I put it to them that the Indian Government was sending 125 Muslim pilgrims to Mecca at state cost, spending thousand of crores. I deliberately said that all world faiths can visit their equivalents of Mecca. In Jerusalam, I had been to Christ’s Church, Al-Aqsa and the Jewish wailing wall. I prayed at all, for I do not know who will meet in the beyond. This is Baba Nanak’s way. I asked why were they not allowing Sikhs to walk over to Katarpur, our Mecca. I used the term since Pakistanis would understand. Few knew then about Katarpur, and most were indifferent. As it happens, Baba Nanak’s main shrines – Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur Sahib, and Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal – are all in Pakistan. The Sikhs for 70 years had been deprived of all roots of their faith. I believed, this was an issue even for the UN, as we were the only people so punished. I cannot say how much of an effect my propaganda had in Pakistan. I always spoke in Urdu or Punjabi for the masses. I am sure that their rulers were not deaf, nor unaware of what was being said on their TV.
I am referring to this past not to claim anything as such.
I believe Baba Nanak is doing this for us, in this year of remembrance. Yes, since the 15th of August, 1947, all Sikhs in their daily Ardaas prayed that they be allowed to walk to Katarpur.
Our prayers have been heard. I thank the people of Pakistan for finally seeing the light. The work on both sides and the tremendous world interest will only promote what Baba Nanak preached. First, “Naa koi Hindu, Naa Musalman”, we see no other. “Sabna Jiyan kaa Ik daata”, let me not ever forget, says Baba Nanak. In our morning prayers, evening prayers and in our Ardaas our final prayer is, “Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, Tere Bhane Sarbat Daa Bhala” – Remembering your Name and your highest being, I pray for the benefit of all!
In 2008, I was given an honorary degree by Pakistan great university, at Faisalabad. To an audience of 7,000 men and women, I repeated this final prayer, and said as only one Punjabi can say to another, “We pray for the well-being of all Srishti” – humans, tigers, cobras, cows and everything else on this globe. Then, wickedly, I said punching into the audiences chest: “We seek first your well-being and only then ours.”
The author is former Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and former Chief Election Commissioner, Government of India