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Not just Sadiq Khan, here’s what other British leaders have said on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre

London mayor Sadiq Khan said it was time for the British government to make a “full and formal apology” to India for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2017 21:23 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jallianwala Bagh,Sadiq Khan,Jallianwala Bagh massacre
London Mayor Sadiq Khan lays a wreath at the martyrs' memorial, during his visit to the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

London’s plain-speaking mayor Sadiq Khan on Wednesday said it was time for the British government to make a “full and formal apology” to India for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre nearly a century ago as he visited Amritsar.

This is not the first time a British politician has called on the government to apologise for the killing of hundreds when troops from the British Indian Army led by Brig Reginald Dyer opened fire on unarmed protesters on April 13, 1919.

A British commission that conducted an inquiry into the incident concluded 379 people were killed but Indian leaders estimated up to 1,000 people had died in the firing.

Over the years, several MPs and politicians of Indian and South Asian-origin have asked the UK government to offer an apology to the Indian people but members of the royal family and British premiers have never gone that far during their visits to India.

Visiting the Jallianwala Bagh memorial on Wednesday, Khan paid his respects to those who lost their lives in the massacre and extended his “own apologies”, according to a statement on the London mayor’s website.

“It is one of the most horrific events in Indian history and it is shameful that successive British governments have fallen short of delivering a formal apology almost 100 years on,” he said.

Here’s what other British leaders and politicians have said on the issue:

1. Winston Churchill, who was then the secretary of state for war, said in the House of Commons more than a year after the massacre that this was “an episode which appears to me to be without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire”. He described it as “an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation” and which was “not the British way of doing business”.

2. Queen Elizabeth, during a visit to Amritsar in 1997, paid 30 seconds of silent homage and laid a wreath at the site of the massacre, which she described as a “distressing” and “difficult” episode in India-UK relations. “But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise…We must learn from the sadness and build on the gladness,” the queen, who was in India to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, said in a speech at a state banquet. Her husband, Prince Philip, was embroiled in a controversy during the same visit when he questioned the higher death toll cited by the Indian side.

3. Tony Blair, who visited the Jallianwala Bagh memorial as the head of a British parliamentary delegation on April 11, 1990, before he became prime minister, wrote in the visitors’ book: “A memorial which reminds us of the worst aspects of colonialism but fortunately the friendship between the two countries has survived it.”

4. David Cameron, the first serving British prime minister to visit the memorial in 2013, expressed regret for the massacre but stopped short of an apology. “This is a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as ‘monstrous’,” he wrote in the visitors’ book. Cameron defended his decision to not offer a formal apology by saying: “So I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologise for. I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened.”

5. Virender Sharma, a Labour Party MP of Indian-origin, tabled a parliamentary motion in October calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to formally apologise in the House of Commons for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The motion has been backed by 13 other MPs.

First Published: Dec 06, 2017 21:23 IST