UK apology for India massacre?

David Cameron Many believe an apology from Mr Cameron will help build a 'special relationship' with India

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Should David Cameron apologise for Britain's colonial past in India, particularly the bloodiest moments like the Amritsar massacre?

His chief diplomat here was confronted with the issue after giving a speech in Delhi a couple of months ago, when an elderly man jailed by the British demanded to know when the UK was going to say sorry.

There's speculation that David Cameron is about to do so during his second trip to India as prime minister.

I was watching the UK High Commissioner's speech and Sir James Bevan's uncomfortable expression made clear that he had no prepared line on the question. He tried to dig himself himself out saying that as he had been born after independence he wasn't qualified to comment.

Some say a proper apology from Mr Cameron will help build the new "special relationship" with India he is seeking.

He has some way to go.

"Except for the kids going to England for education and support on the [UN] Security Council, it matters less and less", says one well-connected Indian investor who'll be in meetings with the Prime Minister.

The use of "England" is one indicator of the 'special relationship' Indians are more interested in.

On the eve of Mr Cameron's arrival, one of its leading papers had a three-page feature headlined 'United States of India' gushing about its obsession with all things American.

The former colonial power didn't even get credit for the language in this love affair, with the paper talking about the two countries being joined by "Americanese".

That India looks more towards the US now is hardly news. It has been for years, with students flocking to its universities and American brands making growing inroads here.

And while Indians are still drawn to British universities, the visa restrictions the prime minister now says won't be as tough for Indians as they sounded have dented that side of the UK's appeal too.

Trade has grown a few billion since his last visit in 2010, but it lags behind European competitors like Germany and even Belgium, with France catching up - and in position to leap ahead if it signs a deal to supply new jets to the Indian air force.

And while India has been busily buying up large chunks of British industry, its biggest trade partners are China and the US.

But UK companies still have plenty of "headroom for growth" in India, says Adrian Mutton who runs Sannam S4, which helps foreign companies get started in India.

So would an apology help?

Mr Cameron can certainly do better than Prince Philip, who made one of his trademark gaffes on a visit to Amritsar in 1997 by describing the death count as "vastly exaggerated".

Relatives of the estimated 1,000 Indians mown down by British bullets in 1919 are reportedly expecting an apology.

And "it would be welcomed across India", says former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

But any benefits may be short-lived. Author and former business chief Gurcharan Das says a British apology would be like "political gimmickry". It's simply not an issue for most Indians, with over half the population under 30.

"The minds of young Indians have been decolonised," says Das. "The new generation just wants to get on with it."

That's what the UK needs to do too, says the investor. It also needs to focus on what it can bring here.

"With the Japanese, you know they are about railways. With the French, it's nuclear power."

"We don't know what the Brits are here for," he says. "They are all over the place".

Andrew North Article written by Andrew North Andrew North South Asia correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I am an Indian born years after independance, Massacare still in my head and an apology will definately contribute to heal the wounds. People in India still havent forgotten days of british raj and there are several bad examples which has left life long affect on indians mind and souls, an apology will definately help to reduce one of major scar of british raj in India

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I suggest we make a complete list of all the atrocities the British have apparently committed in the past 1000 years then apologise for them in one go. Stop this nonsense once and for all.

    Perhaps another too - "What have the British ever done for us ?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    And will India apologise for the Black Hole of Calcutta, or for the use of rape as a weapon during the 1857 rebellion?
    Why don´t we all just stop trying to apologise for acts that none of us were born to commit against people who dies decades before anyone who is now alive was even born and look to making a better future?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Hello 25.Majid Al Sayed,

    Where do you currently reside?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Too late.
    If I were Cameron, I would thank India for its contribution in fighting Hitler in ww2

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    YES A good dose of humility never did anyone any harm

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @27 You forgot the Normans Aussie Bob (unless thats what you mean by the French). Those thugs brought Feudalism to England which still remains today. They robbed indigenous Saxons like me of my birthright! It is a scar on the conscience of the nation.

    Go to Arundel. The Duke of Norfolk lives in stately home with his land and peerage and the old Motte and Bailey castle still in the back yard!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    No. The primary reason being that any wrong was not perpetrated by Mr Cameron, or me, or I suspect, anyone reading this.

    If he wants to express regret at the spilling of blood by our forefathers I can live with that. He shouldn't be apologising on his own or my behalf as neither of us has done anything wrong.

    Remember the nonsense of mr Blair apologising for the slave trade. Same thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    in present day , i'd say , making an apology will not help from any aspect.. because we got over it.. we dont need any apology now..and we are more or less fascinated for the u.s culture instead of te british... in fact we ll stop moving anywhere, because indians are close enough to be self dependent ,be it in technology, defence , i.t , education etc. ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Oh grow up!. There is a misconception in the UK that countries will only have relations with us if we are scrupulously nice. Reality is that international dealings are based on negotiation over practicalities like trade, protection, self interest and other achievable advantages. Have you EVER come across a case where a country has prospered because they behaved "nicely"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    How can Cameron apologise for something he did not do, it would be a meaningless gesture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @21 Oops sorry, I thought you were talking about the Treaty of Amritsar [1846]; I get it now, you are talking about the massacre. Yes, that is recent enough to be acknowledged, though I don't think those alive today can offer a meaningful apology since they were not responsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    OK so how about the Romans, the French, the Saxons and the Vikings apologise for the terror they brought to the UK? How far back should we go?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Will India apologise for the Black Hole of Calcutta?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    just because it happend 90 years ago does not mean this was not an act of Terrorism. Indian should "forget" this and forget the Brutal era of the British Empire occupying most of Asia and the world because its England who did this.. yeah right. an apology is not enough and compensation should be paid to the famillies of the victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Everyone would end up apologising to everyone. There have been so many incidents/wars/etc, the whole thing is pointless in my opinion. It was a different age, a different time with different thinking and ideas. The world has moved on. Remember and understand why these things occurred so we can hopefully prevent them from happening again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @21 Er- Amritsar did not happen in 1919. But why let the facts get in the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Good to hear this.They did very good thing and very bad thing. Bad one,played role in dividing the country.But then why divided county failed to unite again, what stopped after they left.More people died after they left this country than when they ruled.Without them probably there would not have been a current united India.Whatever, India has more to learn from them than they have from India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Ask people A whether country B should apologise for an atrocity against country C and most people will say "yes". Ask the same question to people B and most people will say "no".

    This isn't ancient history - if 1919 is recent enough for Britain to express pride at what it did right (e.g. WWI) then it's also recent enough for Britain to apologise for what it did wrong (e.g. Amritsar).


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