Amritsar, Mar 24: Taking another historic step to improve relations with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here today flagged off a 45-seater luxury Volvo coach to the historic town of Nankana Sahib to establish the fourth road link between India and Pakistan.
This has finally answered the prayers of the Sikhs for the grant of ''Khule darshan didar(easy access)'' to the shrines ''jina to panth nu vichoriya giya hai(those shrines which have been separated from the Sikh panth)''.
Dr Singh, accompanied by his wife Mrs Gursharan Kaur, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, Deputy Chief Minister Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, MP Mrs Parneet Kaur and state Congress president Shamsher ingh Dullo and Central ministers Mr Ashwani Kumar and Prithvi Raj, waved the green flag to formally establish the historic link between he city of the Golden Temple founded by the fourth Guru Ram Dass and Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of the first Guru Nanak.
As the Prime Minister waved the flag, the golden coloured bus, carrying 24-member Punjab government delegation and 16 other passengers and decorated with flowers and bearing the flags of India and Pakistan, rolled out of Ranjit Avenue and onto the Sher Shah Suri Marg enroute fo Nankana Sahib through the Wagah check post, where the passengers on board will go through the routine immigration and customs clearance.
Dressed in traditional Punjabi dress, Bhangra dancers moved to the beats of the 'dhol'(drum) showering flower petals on the bus.
Earlier in his speech at the public rally, Dr Singh said it was a historic day both for India and Pakistan as the fourth road link with Pakistan has been established. ''It is a historic day also for the Sikhs in India and other parts of the globe as ever since partition, they had in their 'ardas' been praying for the 'khule darshan didar'(easy access) to places of worship in Pakistan including Nankana Sahib,'' he said.
The Prime Minister took the opportunity to thank the people of Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf in particular for the cooperation extended in making the Amritsar-Nankana sahib bus service a reality. ''This (link) will further improve relations between the two countries,'' he added.
''The day is also historic as two 'mahaan' (important) places of worhsip - Amritsar, the city of Guru Ram Dass, has been linked with Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, which is a very important place of worship,'' Dr Singh said. ''Today I am reminded of the partition when I left my home in Pakistan and came here,'' he said.
This linkage will facilitate the pilgrims of both countries to visit these two important religious places on both sides of the border.
The Amritsar-Nankana Sahib is the fourth road link between India and Pakistan after the Delhi-Lahore, Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Amritsar-Lahore links.
This is the second time that Dr Singh has flagged off a bus to Pakistan. In April last year he had flagged off the bus to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Srinagar to set up the second road link with the neighbouring country. In his speech, Dr Singh pointed out that the first step in improving relations was taken when the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad link was established and then came the Amritsar-Lahore link and now the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib link.
The link will grant easy access to Sikhs of India to the holy town of Nankana Sahib, the 'janam asthan' (birth place) of Guru Nanak which is a mere 160 km from this holy city. Nankana Sahib is perhaps the most important place of pilgrimage in Pakistan for Sikhs along with Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib in Lahore.
Access to these religious places had never been easy for a majority of the Sikh families residing in India. The only occasion they got to pay obeisance at Nankana Sahib and other religious places in Pakistan was with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) 'jathas' on the occasion of 'Baisakhi', the birth anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev and the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak that falls in November.
The flagging off of the Nankana Sahib bus was delayed by a month after the Pakistan authorities requested the Indian government to postpone the inaugural run which was to take place on February 24. Like the Lahore-Amritsar bus, the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus will run twice a week. While Pakistan will run a 45-seater luxury coach belonging to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, India would run the ultra-luxury Volvo coach which has been hired by Punjab Roadways from Libra Bus Transport Company on Fridays and Saturdays.
The 160-km distance between the two holy places will be covered in about five hours including the time taken for immigration and customs clearance on both sides of the Wagah check post. The journey cost is Rs 1100 per passenger in Indian currency and Rs 1250 per passenger in Pakistan currency.
At Nankana Sahib, the Pakistan authorities have made a temporary arrangement for the halt of the bus after the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) denied PTDC the permission to terminate or commence the journey of the bus from Gurdwara Janam Asthan (birth place) at Nankana Sahib.
The Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus will bypass Lahore and no one will be allowed to board or get off the bus enroute. Like the other buses operating between the two countries, fool-proof security arrangements have been made for the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service.
On January 20 this year, the third road link with Pakistan was established when the two most important places of undivided Punjab -- Lahore and Amritsar were linked. The road links with Pakistan are a result of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) intiated by the Manmohan Singh government last year.
The first road link after partition was established on February 20, 1999 when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his historic trip to Lahore on board a luxury Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus through the Wagah joint border check post.
Officially, the Lahore-Delhi link was established on March 16, 1999 when a DTC bus rolled into Pakistan through the Wagah check post.
The Lahore-Delhi bus which runs on four days of the week has been running successfully ever since and it continued even during the Kargil conflict. This bus was discontinued on December 31, 2001 after India severed road, rail and air links to Pakistan in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament. It was again restarted on July 11, 2003.