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Pakistan’s Punjab gets first Sikh minister in Ramesh Singh Arora

Arora says he will work on interfaith harmony; and make all minorities feel safe in Pakistan

Lahore:Ramesh Singh Arora (48), a legislator from Narowal, became the first from the minority Sikh community to take oath as a minister in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Wednesday.

Arora, a three-time Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Narowal, took oath as a minister in the cabinet of the recently elected Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) government headed by chief minister Maryam Nawaf Sharif, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The ceremony was held at the Governor’s House in Lahore.

Maryam’s uncle Shehbaz Sharif was recently elected as the neighboring country’s Prime Minister.

Speaking to PSS media, Arora, who was recently also elected as the chief of Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), said: “It is for the first time since Partition in 1947 that a Sikh has been inducted in the cabinet of Punjab province. I won’t just work for the safety and well-being of Sikhs but all minorities including Hindus and Christians living in Pakistan.”

In the recently held elections in Pakistan, Arora was re-elected as MPA from Narowal, also his native place and where the Gurdwara Sri Kartarpur Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak is located. Last year, he was also appointed as “Ambassador at large” for Kartarpur Corridor.

Arora said that during partition in 1947, his family had chosen to stay back in Pakistan instead of migrating to India like majority Sikh/Hindu families. “I was born in Nankana Sahib but later we moved to Narowal. My grandfather had chosen to stay back in Pakistan during partition on the insistence of his dear friend. Just for the sake of friendship, he had chosen to stay back,” said Arora.

Arora is likely to get the charge of minority affairs portfolio. Speaking to media, he further said: “There are several plans that I already have for the welfare of minorities in Pakistan, especially Punjab. Though the Sikh Marriage Act was passed here, it is yet to be implemented. We will get it done. We will also bring a new Interfaith Harmony Policy so that all minorities including Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and others feel safe and secure. We will also ensure that the 2 per cent quota for minority students in educational institutions of Pakistan is implemented in letter and spirit.”

A postgraduate in entrepreneurship and SME management from Government College University, Lahore, Arora worked for World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Programme in Pakistan before joining politics. In 2008, he founded Mojaz Foundation, an organization working for the underprivileged and destitute in Pakistan.

Arora said that it was “unfortunate” that even after more than four years that Kartarpur Corridor was thrown open in November 2019 to facilitate pilgrims from Indian side to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Sri Kartarpur Sahib, the response has been “lukewarm.”

“We will take all possible steps to encourage more people to visit Kartarpur via the corridor,” he said. He added that the areas where minorities live in Punjab province still lack development. “We will ensure that minorities get equal status, opportunities and access to basic infrastructure. They should not feel neglected,” he said. Arora’s elder brother Bhai Gobind Singh serves as the head granthi at Kartarpur gurdwara.

Asked about the dwindling Sikh and Hindu population in Pakistan, Arora said: “The new interfaith policy will sort out these issues.” He added that not just tourism for Sikh pilgrimage places but that for Hindu and Christian sites will also be promoted.

Arora is also credited for the implementation of Sikh Marriage Registration Act 2017 in Pakistan. He had introduced it as a private member bill which was unanimously passed by the Assembly in March 2018.

“I had joined politics due to the guidance of Ahsan Iqbal Chaudhary, a senior PML (N) leader who said that it was important to have a person from Sikh minority community in Punjab assembly of Pakistan,” says Arora.

Arora said that he had last visited India in December 2014 to attend NRI Sammelan on the invitation of former CM Parkash Singh Badal. “We have close ties with Sukhbir Badal and former Punjab speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal. They had invited me to India and given a lot of respect to me and my family,” said Arora.

On many of his opponents targeting him by saying he was a “Hindu converted Sikh”, Arora says: “I can just say that such people cannot be the true followers of Guru Nanak who recognized entire humanity as one.”

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