David Cameron on Wednesday became the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, in 1919.
“This was a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at that time as ‘monstrous’,” Cameron wrote in the visitors’ book at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial.
This gesture as well as the entire Amritsar visit, coming at the end of his three-day India trip to drum up trade and investment, is seen by many as an attempt to court around 1.5 million British voters of Indian origin ahead of a 2015 election.
On April 13, 1919, upon hearing that a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people was taking place at Jallianwala Bagh, brigadier general Reginald EH Dyer ordered his men to shoot at the crowd. According to the plaque inside the memorial complex, 1,500 Indians died that day.
“We must never forget what happened... we must ensure that the UK stands up for the right of peaceful protests around the world,” read Cameron’s entry.
Later, Cameron defended his decision not to say sorry. “I don’t think the right thing is to... seek out things you can apologise for… I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened,” The Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.
President of Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Pariwar Samiti Bushan Behal had sought an apology from Cameron. But the secretary of Jallianwala Bagh Trust SK Mukherjee, said, “The strongly worded regret clearly indicates it was an indirect apology.”
With agency inputs