International Punjabi Conference: Pak prunes number of Indian delegates from 100 to 39 at last minute

Divya Goyal

Indian delegates reach Lahore Thursday.

A group of 39 Punjabi writers, academicians, educationists etc. from India will be leaving for Lahore via the Wagah border on Thursday to participate in 30th International Conference on Punjabi Literature & Culture, being organised by the World Punjabi Congress.

This year, the conference is dedicated to the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Scholars and litterateurs from India, Pakistan and other countries will be presenting their research papers and other literary works on Guru Nanak during the conference.

However, at the last minute, the Pakistan High Commission pruned the list of Indian delegates and visas have been granted to 39 participants only even though Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior had granted approval for visas of 100 Indian participants.

A February 7 letter issued by Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior (a copy of which is with The Indian Express) sent to the High Commission for Pakistan (New Delhi), reads, “It has been decided to grant (7) days single entry visas to Mr Deepak Manmohan Singh and 99 other Indian nationals valid for Lahore...Copy forwarded for information to Mr Fakhar Zaman, Chairman, World Punjabi Congress, Lahore...”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Deepak Manmohan Singh (79), eminent Punjabi writer and president, World Punjabi Congress (India chapter), who will be leading the Indian delegation to Pakistan to participate in the conference, said, “On February 7, Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior issued a letter informing Pakistan High Commission that approval has been granted for visas to 100 Indian delegates. But in the last hour, on February 9, we were informed that visas will be given to 25 delegates only. It was only after we kept insisting that they agreed to give visas to 39 participants. It is the most difficult task to get visas for Pakistan and one undergoes a lot of harassment. For hours, our representative was questioned at Pakistan High Commission and even then they pruned the list of our participants by more than half.”

He further said that Fakhar Zaman, renowned novelist from Pakistan and president, World Punjabi Congress (Pakistan chapter), had invited the Indian delegation and all participants were keenly looking forward to the conference. “We say that Guru Nanak is the one who binds India and Pakistan despite all bitterness and enmity between both countries. Guru Nanak is our common treasure but we faced such harassment even to participate in an event dedicated to first Sikh Guru. The entire process was so slow and frustrating that despite applying in December last week, we were kept in the dark till the last hour. And even after their ministry granted approval to visas for 100 Indian delegates, it has been given to 39 participants only,” he added.

“When we contacted the Pakistan High Commission, they cited some technical reasons for rejecting visas of more than half of our applicants,” he said, adding, “Maybe the recent controversy of a kabaddi team from India reaching Pakistan without approval is also a reason but it is only our suspicion. We haven’t been given any reason.”

Pakistan’s Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhary Parvez Elahi is expected to deliver the inaugural speech on February 14 and Punjab Governor Chaudhury Mohammad Sarwar is expected to deliver the concluding address on February 16, as per the itinerary shared by organisers from Lahore with the Indian delegation. On February 17 and 18, Indian delegates will be visiting Kartarpur Sahib and Nankana Sahib, respectively.

The sessions at the conference will include research papers on Guru Nanak such as Guru Nanak and his teachings, Guru Nanak Bani- Theory and Practise, Guru Nanak Bani relevance and Punjabi crisis, Influence of Guru Nanak on Punjabi literature, Bhai Mardana- Sahitkaran De Drishtikon Ton among others. A documentary on Baba Farid and Baba Bulley Shah will also be screened. Popular Punjabi singer Paramjit Singh Sidhu (Pammi Bhai), part of Indian delegation, will be presenting a cultural programme. A talk is also scheduled on the topic ‘Building Bridges of normalcy between India and Pakistan’ and ‘Preservation of Punjabi culture heritage in India & Pakistan’ on February 16.

Delegates from Canada, Germany, Singapore, US, Holland, Denmark and Australia are also expected.