- Sachidananda Murthy
Story Dated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 9:57 hrs IST
Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's wish to visit his birthplace in Pakistan is yet to be fulfilled, he has the satisfaction of helping two Presidents of Pakistan make a pilgrimage to the Dargah of Kwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.
First it was Pervez Musharaff in 2005 and now it is Asif Ali Zardari. Musharaff had failed in his first attempt in 2001 when he made the famous peace seeking visit to India for talks with then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Though everything was arranged in Ajmer, an angry Vajpayee delayed Musharaff's late night departure from Agra, and Musharaff overflew Ajmer. But five years later, Singh invited him to watch a cricket match and fulfill the pilgrimage.
For kings, presidents and prime ministers in south Asia, India is not just the big neighbour physically and politically, but it is also the pilgrimage destination. Some of them find it easy to make the pilgrimage at a time chosen by them, but if the bilateral relations are troubled, then the pilgrimage itself becomes a controversy.
Musharaff is not the only ruler from south Asia who had to await a positive relationship.
In recent years, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha wanted to use the pilgrim card to improve relations with India after crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Immediately after claiming victory, Rajapaksha sent a message to Manmohan Singh that he wanted to pray at Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati. He had hoped that Singh would not only say yes, but invite the island nation's President to New Delhi for quick talks.
But there was no immediate response. Even when permission came, Rajapaksha was told that he would not be a state guest, and there would be no political factor to his visit. His predecessors have regularly visited Buddhist and Hindu pilgrim sites in india, including Guruvayoor.
Same was the fate of Nepal's King Gyanendra, who had given encouragement to anti-Indian sentiments in the Himalayan kingdom. The king of Nepal regularly worships at the famous Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, and is given full temple honours. But Gyanendra's visit was postponed because he was seen as getting too close to China.
However when the anti India rhetoric came down, Gyanendra was allowed to travel the short distance from Kathmandu to Varanasi. His elder brother Birendra, who was asssassinated with his family members,was a regular worshipper at Varanasi, but he too was cold shouldered on occasion.
Last October, Myanmar President U Thien Sein , who is a buddhist, visited india, and spent time at Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar, holy places for Buddhists round the world. Yet, Sien, who was the military dictator before he gave up the uniform to become civilian president, was not allowed to come on a pilgrimage, as Myanmar was seen as harbouring militant groups from north eastern states of India.
Tailpiece: Barack Obama was keen to visit a place of worship in India, during his state visit two years ago. The American embassy in India suggested the Golden Temple in Amritsar. After all the preparations were made, the White House dropped the plan. Though the White House said it never confirmed the programme, the speculation was that Obama did not want to cover his head.