Even by their customary frosty standards, a worrisome new low in bilateral relations has been reached with India declining to issue visas to 503 people from Pakistan who were desirous of undertaking a pilgrimage to Ajmer to participate in the annual ‘Urs’ of the Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti.

Such pilgrimages are normally an annual affair, governed by a 1974 protocol. That New Delhi’s “action” had little to do with complications over the pilgrimage itself, but was in keeping with the enhanced “civil” tensions (which cannot be divorced from explosive military hostilities along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir) which have snowballed after the Indian High Commissioner was denied membership of an exclusive club in Islamabad, to include allegations of ill-treatment of diplomats in both Capitals, recall of an envoy, boycott of a multilateral conference etc is confirmed by the official line here that the time is not conducive…. And that pilgrimages have been suspended earlier too.

Yet a question that remains unanswered is why simple pilgrims must be sucked into the quagmire generated by partisan politics? Since immature tit-for-tat is endemic in both “foreign offices”, now in jeopardy will be the pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib that Sikhs undertake around Gurupurab. Have both societies surrendered their shared cultural heritage?

Remember that sporting links remain disrupted, Pakistani actors banished from the Indian screen, even a visit by schoolchildren abandoned. Is there no end to such senseless behaviour? Will we never have cause to note that “wiser counsel prevailed?”

Time was when India, as the more-accomplished nation, exhibited the grace not to fall into the same mess as Pakistan. Alas the government now appears determined to retain the hyphen in the Indo-Pak equation: maybe that finds reflection in electoral verdicts but it also reflects an insecure, debilitating mindset.

Aspirants to a central role on the global stage must never appear small. That the affected pilgrims are Muslims today, perhaps Sikhs tomorrow, hardly worries those who play the majority versus minority card every time the ballot box is spotted.

A casualty of the visa-denial is the essay of Mrs Sushma Swaraj to inject a humane element into bilateral and regional diplomacy. The rejection of the pilgrims’ plea also renders rather hollow the laudatory message from the Prime Minister on the eve of the Urs ~ harmony was at the core of allure of the Sufi saint.

Several thousand Indian-Muslims congregate at Ajmer for the Urs, their presence and open interaction with pilgrims from Pakistan dispels misconceptions and mischievous canards about maltreatment of India’s minorities that inspire the ***jihadis*** in Kashmir.

The pilgrims could present the desired picture on their return home. So has the MEA missed out on an opportunity to let common folk set the record straight? Or is diplomacy following military strategy in surrendering to political diktat?