Chief Minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti today joined thousands of devotees who thronged the shrine of Baba Chamliyal near the International Border (IB) in Ramgarh sector of district Samba to observe the annual Mela of the mystic saint.
Member Parliament, Mr Jugal Kishore Sharma, Minister for Industries & Commerce, Chander Parkash Ganga and Minister of State for Tourism, Mrs Priya Sethi accompanied the Chief Minister.
Every year devotees from India and Pakistan converge at the border near the sanctum sanctorum to pay obeisance to Baba Chamliyal who holds great reverence for the people from both the countries for being a common saint of friends and foes.
While Pakistani Rangers offered Chaddar for the shrine on behalf of the people of Sialkote, BSF and civil administration of Samba handed over Shakkar and Sharbat (holy soil and water) to Rangers for distribution among people on the other side of the border.
Felicitating the people on both sides of the border for exhibiting affectionate cultural bonding during the Mela, the Chief Minister said Chamliyal village would be developed as a part of the Government’s initiative to promote border tourism in the State. She also pitched for opening new cross-border meeting points to expand people-to-people contact in the region.
Stressing the need for reviving the process of India-Pakistan reconciliation, Ms Mehbooba said this is imperative towards bringing about peace in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond. “We are working with the Government of India for opening Suchetgarh-Sialkote, Kargil-Skardu, Nowshera-Mirpur and some other roads to expand people-to-people contact,” she said and added that Suchetgarh has the potential of becoming J&K’s Wagah, as was envisioned by her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
She said in the long run Suchetgarh can become a trading point like Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh with the neighbouring country.
The Chief Minister said Suchetgarh has been taken up for development as a border tourism destination under the Swadesh Darshan Project, funded by the Union Ministry of Tourism. She said the various components of the Rs 5 crore project includes restoration of old Octroi Post, construction of a multipurpose hall, development of water-body and landscaping of lawns to enhance the ambience of the place.
Interacting with media persons, Ms Mehbooba called for highlighting the cultural camaraderie that exists between the people of India and Pakistan. “I wonder if hostilities can become news between the two neighbours, why can’t such cultural bonhomie,” she said and added that given its socio-religious significance Chamliyal could become the hub the new movement for reconciliation in the region.
The Chief Minister said cultural affinity across the two regions is too strong to resist. “I hope our good intentions are reciprocated by our neighbour,” she said and added that people-to-people contact should be encouraged to remove mistrust and create a congenial atmosphere for dialogue and reconciliation.
The Chief Minister said that like siblings locked in an endless rivalry, India and Pakistan have bickered for well over six decades. “Transforming that rivalry into a mature, productive relationship will be difficult, but the consequences of continued animosity will be much worse,” she said and added that there is always possibility of friendship between the two countries as both the cultures share a fondness for each other.
Ms Mehbooba said if there are any silver linings amid the grey clouds of competition, it is the fact that normalizing relations would be a boon for business in both countries. “It may sound simplistic, but building relationships is the key to peace and economic prosperity in the subcontinent in the foreseeable future,” she said and added that some measurable amount of friendship will become unavoidable very soon.
She said both the countries stand to gain if bilateral trade, economic and societal relations improve and they are able to resolve their problems in a graduated manner. “This can be possible if they are innovative in their thinking and break out of the stranglehold of one-sided emotionally charged narrative of history,” she said and added to begin with there can be friendly exchanges in various fields, like art, environment, culture, youth affairs, sports, information and media.
The Chief Minister offered Chaddar at the shrine of Baba Chamliyal.
Baba Chamliyal, after whom the village is named, lived about 320 years ago and is revered by the people of all faiths. The shrine is barely one and a half kilometers from the Zero Line. Upto 1971, Pakistani nationals were allowed to come to this side of the border to pay obeisance at the shrine and offer Chaddar. However, after 1971 India-Pakistan war, the practice was stopped. Since then only a delegation of Pakistani Rangers comes and offers a Chaddar and in return carry Shakkar and Sharbat from the shrine on Indian side for devotees in Pakistan.
The festival is also celebrated by devotees for three days at Saidanwali village on the Pakistani side of the zero line.
Baba Chamliyal Mela has become very popular since November 2003 following ceasefire and parallel peace initiatives by both India and Pakistan.
Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah briefed the Chief Minister about the measures being taken by the Tourism Department to promote border tourism in Jammu region.
Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Dr Pawan Kotwal, IGP Jammu, Mr Danesh Rana, DIG Jammu-Kathua range, Mr Ashkoor Wani and DIG BSF, Mr B S Kasana were also present on the occasion.