Jallianwala Bagh: PM May repeats ‘deep regret’, no apology
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called for “a full, clear and unequivocal apology”.
Faced with growing demand for an apology, Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday reiterated the UK government’s long-standing expression of ‘deep regret’ over the April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, calling it a ‘shameful scar’ on British Indian history.
An apology on behalf of the state is usually made by the prime minister. Mark Field, junior minister in the foreign office, told MPs seeking the apology on Tuesday that it was not for him to tender it, but said the issue is a ‘work in progress’.
In a brief statement during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, May said: “The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As her majesty the Queen said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India”.
“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the UK-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security”.
May went on to extol what she called the “enormous contribution” of the Indian diaspora, but did not dwell on the issue further during the session, when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the apology a hundred years after the incident.
Corbyn said: “I am very pleased that the prime minister mentioned what happened in Jallianwala Bagh and the issues of the massacre at Amritsar a hundred years ago. I think the people in memory of those that lost their lives and the brutality of what happened deserve a full, clear and unequivocal apology for what took place on that occasion”.
Responding to May’s comments, senior Labour MP Virendra Sharma said: “I appreciate the Prime Minister’s comments today, and thank her for her earnest words, but they are only the beginning of an apology not the full and frank formal apology that the communities affected need.
“I would also like to offer my fullest thanks to Jeremy Corbyn for his words of support, and his commitment to a full apology when he becomes Prime Minister. The wounds of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre still haunt millions and should be laid to rest at this the centenary of the horrendous act.”
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre has been the subject of several debates since 1919 in the UK parliament, most recently on Tuesday in the Westminster Hall and in February in the House of Lords, when the government said it has been ‘reflecting’ on the apology demand.
Field told MPs: “It is not appropriate for me to make the apology I know many would wish to come. I can assure the house that this is a work in progress. It is an active debate taking place among ministers and among senior officials and our high commissioner in New Delhi.”
The British high commission in New Delhi, Field added, had been asked to visit the memorial site on April 13 and lay a wreath. There will also be a public acknowledgement of the centenary and the sense of ‘deep regret’ in events organised in the UK.
Responding during the PMQs to Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, who wanted May to commend the Indian diaspora for contributing nearly 10 per cent of taxes even though constituting only 4 per cent of the UK population, May said the community deserves to be congratulated.
“The Indian diaspora make an enormous contribution to British society and I am sure the whole House wishes to see the UK’s relationship with India continue to flourish…I am very happy to welcome the contribution that the Indian diaspora are making to our country”, May said.
“He (Vara) has referenced the economic contribution they are making through their taxes, of course, many of them are running businesses that are employing people up and down the country, many of them are successfully exporting and supporting our economy”.
“But they also play a very important role in our society and I am very happy to welcome that and congratulate them on it”, May added.