Restructuring the Jallianwala Bagh Trust
The Jallianwala Bagh is no less than a pilgrimage site for us Indians. In 1919, it witnessed the country’s sacrifices and struggles. It is not merely ordinary soil. For us, it is the holy sandalwood that every Indian applies on his forehead, and bows his head in reverence.
It still carries the smell of the sacrifices of our martyrs.
Even now, 100 years later, the memory of that tragedy shakes our souls. British soldiers had massacred unarmed countrymen, women, children and older persons. Such inhuman action has few parallels in history. This is why the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has decided to turn the site into a national museum, which will be run by a restructured and non-political Jallianwala Bagh trust.
A restructured trust is needed because the old trust was being run in an arbitrary manner. But attempts to improve the functioning of a site such as Jallianwala Bagh should not be interpreted as a political project. It is one of those places which is above politics and party allegiances. And this is exactly what Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised while announcing the restructured trust — that it belongs to every Indian, not to any specific political party.
The genesis and its history of the trust goes back a century. Soon after the tragic incident, the people of the country decided to build a memorial at the site. Motilal Nehru led the campaign, and under his chairmanship, the 36th session of the Indian National Congress was held in Amritsar in December, 1919. Soon, Jallianwala Bagh, measuring about 6.27 acres, was purchased from its 37 private owners for Rs 50,000. People contributed the amount, and the land was registered on September 20, 1920.
A trustee owned and managed the site from 1920 to 1951. The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act came into effect on May 2, 1951. The first meeting of the trust was held on December 9, 1952. In this meeting, an amount of Rs 50,000 changed hands for the acquisition of vacant houses. Another meeting of the trust was held on December 29, 1953, in which the acquisition of an additional 12 vacant houses was approved at a cost of Rs 14,988. Only Rs 2,572 was left out of the previously approved funds for the acquisition of houses.
Therefore, the remaining amount, Rs 12,416, was shared by the Centre and the government of Punjab. In a meeting held on December 29, 1953, Rs 577 was approved for the installation of iron fencing around the wall. In 2006-07, the government of India sanctioned Rs 7.51 crore for the redevelopment of the monument.
These details prove that the trust was either funded by the people of this country, or by the state or central government. It can also be said that the Congress did not contribute any money from its fund for the memorial.
There is more to the story. In 1951, when Jawaharlal Nehru constituted the Jallianwala Bagh trust, Saifuddin Kitchlu and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were made lifelong trustees. Along with this, the president of the Indian National Congress, the governor and chief minister of Punjab, and three nominated members of the central government were designated as members. But the government did not fill the vacancies created after the death to these leaders.
The working of the trust came to notice in the year 1970, when the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, passed a resolution as the trust’s chairman. But we don’t know when she joined the trust, and in what capacity. Babu Jagjivan Ram was not the part of the trust even though he was, then, the party’s president. It is unclear if he was not in the trust, how exactly Indira Gandhi became a member.
On August 7, 1998, Sonia Gandhi, as the president of the Congress, chaired a meeting of the trust, but the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was not invited. It proves that the trust was run as per the Congress’ convenience, and not based on rules and regulations.
The trust was restructured once again in 2006. Accordingly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have chaired the meeting, but there is no evidence that he ever did. During his tenure as PM, IK Gujral was never called for the trust’s meetings, though he was later made a member of the trust.
These are reasons enough to take the trust seriously. To rectify its anomalies, the current government has made some changes in the trust, and has dedicated it to the nation.