Amarinder Singh, Rahul Gandhi differ on Jallianwala Bagh revamp
The revamp of the Jallianwala Bagh Smarak in Amritsar, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last weekend, seems to have divided the Congress. While former party president Rahul Gandhi condemned the government’s project, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh backed the renovation.
“Such an insult to the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh can only be done by those who do not know the meaning of martyrdom. I am the son of a martyr — I will not tolerate the insult of martyrs at any cost,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi on Tuesday. “We are against this indecent cruelty.”
But hours after Gandhi’s remark, the Punjab CM called the revamp “very nice”. “I don’t know what has been removed. To me it looks very nice,” Singh said. The apparent disagreement comes amid a tussle for control of the party in Punjab between Singh and the state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
On Saturday, at the launch of the memorial through video-conferencing by the PM in which Singh was also present, he had said it must serve as a reminder for future generations about the right of people to peaceful, democratic protest.
But as images of the revamped passage to the memorial were circulated on social media on Monday, there was outrage about alterations done to it. Several other Congress leaders, including the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, and spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, also tweeted on the issue.
Shergill alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government’s renovation of the passage “is not to preserve but erase the marks of atrocities committed by General Dyer during British rule”. “Call me a traditional Indian but I am not a fan of installing disco lights on institutions of importance and dignity,” Gogoi said. The outrage was also shared by other opposition political parties. Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi slammed the government for the renovation and said it was damaging “our collective history”.
Hitting out at Gandhi, BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh said “The Congress leader should explain as to what his party did for the famous memorial... during its rule. When the memorial is now being expanded and modernised, then the Congress is rattled.”
The revamp has also been criticised by historians, who have accused the government of “Disneyfying” a sombre memorial to the hundreds who fell to British bullets at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. Indian historian Syed Irfan Habib called it an example of “corporatisation” of monuments and asked the government to look after them without meddling with the “flavours of the periods these memorials represent”.