Angered by a letter sent by Prime Minister David Cameron to London voters with Sikh names, Britain’s oldest Indian diaspora organisation has demanded he tender an apology in parliament for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.
Cameron and Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for the London mayor polls to be held on May 5, have been criticised by Indian-origin voters who believe they were racially profiled when the British leaders sent them letters and leaflets that sought their support.
Letters addressing voters by name specifically mentioned the Indian, Gujarati, and Sikh communities, ostensibly based on surnames in the voters list. Goldsmith’s leaflets included photos that showed him with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting temples.
The Indian Workers Association, established in 1938, noted Cameron’s letter mentioned his visit to the Golden Temple in February 2013, but it reminded him of his words while visiting Jallianwala Bagh, when he described the massacre a “deeply shameful act in British history”.
IWA vice-president Harsev Bains wrote to Cameron to ask that he make the same remarks in parliament, so the apology could be recorded as the centenary of the massacre approaches. “This single action will cost nothing. The effect on the people of India and the Indian diaspora will be of historic magnitude,” he wrote.
Bains told Hindustan Times: “From their mail shots it would appear that the Tories are in a panic. This is the first time in our life in the UK that we are witnessing such communal and divisive tactics in a political election campaign. Letters have been sent to people based on their perceived religious background.”
On April 13, 1919, soldiers of the British Indian army led by Col Reginald Dyer fired at more than 10,000 people who had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to protest against British rule. According to official records, around 400 civilians were killed and another 1,200 wounded. Unofficial records put the tally much higher.
Goldsmith mentioned in his leaflets to Sikh voters that as MP he had campaigned against making the Golden Temple a Unesco site “in order to preserve control of this holy place in the hands of the Sikh community”.
He also reminded voters that he campaigned for the release of classified official documents relating to Britain’s alleged involvement in the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984, “to which the government agreed”.
Cameron’s letter and Goldsmith’s leaflets claim Labour candidate Sadiq Khan would “put you and your family’s future at risk”.