NEW DELHI: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first head of government to visit the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex in Anandpur in Punjab on Wednesday.
Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had not attended the opening of the complex last year because of the local Congress-Akali politics.
The complex, which was opened with much fanfare and showcases major events in the 500 years of Sikhism, has been designed by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie.
The complex that usually bustles with people was closed for the day for Harper’s visit.
The Canadian prime minister was airlifted in a chopper from Chandigarh to the complex where he and his wife Laureen went around the complex without shoes and heads covered as per the Sikh tradition. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal accompanied the Harpers to the Khalsa complex.
Harper, who was given the traditional siropa and a sword of honour by Takht Keshgarh jathedar Tarlocha Singh, wrote in the visitors’ book: “I am happy to be the first prime minister of any country to have paid a visit here.”
Since politics had kept the Indian prime minister from visiting the complex last year, the same politics brought the Canadian prime minister to the complex as Harper attempts to please the 500,000-strong Sikh community in Canada which voted in large numbers for his Conservative Party in the last general election.
When asked about the Indian government’s concern about anti-India activities of some Sikh elements in Canada, Harper assured that his government would not permit any secessionist activities on Canadian soil.
The prime minister was accompanied by the Indo-Canadian MPs, including Parm Gill, Nina Grewal, Bal Gosal and Tim Uppal.
Earlier, Harper was welcomed by Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil at the Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh on his arrival from Delhi.
The Governor presented him with English volumes of the Sikh scripture of the Granth Sahib.