Three days ahead of the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, UK Prime Minister Theresa May called the tragedy a shameful scar on British Indian history. The statement is in line with Britain’s position since the mid-1990s of expressing ‘deep regret’ for the April 13, 1919, massacre in Jallianwala Bagh and not issuing a formal apology.
In a statement, marking the 100th anniversary of the massacre, at the start of her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, she reiterated the “regret” already expressed by the British Government.
“The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh of 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As Her Majesty the Queen (Elizabeth II) said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India,” she said.
“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the UK-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security. Indian diaspora make an enormous contribution to British society and I am sure the whole House wishes to see the UK’s relationship with India continue to flourish,” she said.
During a debate on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the UK government had flagged “financial implications” as one of the factors it had to consider while reflecting upon demands for a formal apology.
UK Foreign Office minister Mark Field said at the debate that while it was important to draw a line under the past over the “shameful episode” in history, repeatedly issuing apologies for events related to the British Raj came with their own problems.
“I feel little reluctant to make apologies for things that have happened in the past. There are also concerns that any government department has to make about an apology, given that there may well be financial implications to making an apology,” he said.
Veteran Indian-origin Labour MP Virendra Sharma called for a formal apology to be made by PM May even as others demanded the construction of a physical memorial in memory of those who lost their lives.
Troops of the British Indian Army, under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer, had fired on civilians who had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh for a peaceful protest on April 13, 1919 killing scores of people.
On Wednesday, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu asked Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to write to the Centre and the British government seeking the apology of the Prime Minister of Britain for the Jallianwala Bagh incident.
“On April 13, 2019, as we join our nation in paying tribute to the martyrs and observe the 100th anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The institutional ignorance and unforgiving silence of the Government of India haunts my mind,” Sidhu said in his letter to the CM.
“I request you (Amarinder Singh) to write to the Indian and British governments seeking an apology from the British Prime Minister for the atrocities. It would go a long way towards bettering people to people contact among our two nations if a strong message of reconciliation is delivered,” Sidhu said.