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 60.

    I think we should not press this hard. There are many such incidents. We also should not forget the good things that came along with the British administration. We did not have a unfied rule across the nation. Various kings had their own kingdoms , who were in war with one another. There was no India as a nation before British. So we should move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Here we go again.Hush puppy politicians going around the world pleading and begging for forgiveness for events that happened 100 years ago in a different time and a different world.Certainly drum up business for Britain but that's no reason to go round the world ingratiating the country and apologising for events100 years ago.I had no hand in it and neither did 99% of the rest of the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Individual criminal dont have any religion,country or community they exist in every society and country, and should be punished according to law and they have been..although i agree with you to learn for women rights and there is a long way to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    An apology is free and wouldn't do any harm but removing barriers to doing business between the 2 countries would be far more practical.

    Every country in the world has been responsible for atrocities in the past - if everyone apologised for everything we wouldn't have time to get on with life.
    Look at how the US treated the native Americans - have they apologised ? Perhaps they should...

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    There are two ways of thinking this; one way is, too little too late an other is better late than never. The way how Britain is perceived and expected to be so mannerly, being sorry and declaring that is the least it can do, or it can't just do that much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Let's have World apology day!
    The Brits can say sorry to India, etc
    The Belgians can say sorry to the Congo, etc
    The French can say sorry to Africa and Southeast Asia, etc
    The Italians can say sorry to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya, etc
    The Germans can say sorry to Europe, East Africa, etc
    The Japanese can say sorry to the U.S, Korea, the U.K, China, etc
    As for America.....well take your pick!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Mr Cameron, I fear we've lost out and left it far too late. USA/China have won the trade game in India with Germany swiftly catching up. Heck, Nike sponsors their cricket team.

    Full marks for trying Mr Cameron, but its very very late now, India probably will not need UK's trade partnerships now, even their Mittal doesn't want to be British. They've invested in companies here and have moved on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    There have been some truly ridiculous articles written, but to see this on the BBC News' Front Page and opened up for comments is incredible!

    How many countries should apologise, and going how far back?

    The UK should apologise when India rids itself of rife discrimination, widespread and unpunished abuse of women and wasting billions on a space programme will millions live in awful poverty

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @47 GDK The ones who set up peodophile rings in Rochdale and other parts of the country all came from the Indian sub continent. Not to mention all those cases of parents killing their own daughters for wanting to act like a British girl having grown up on British soil. It's a shame but I think the one thing the Indians could really learn from the British is Feminism and women's rights!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

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

    A few things the Brits are good at...
    Engineering & Railways (look around India for the legacy we left)
    IT, Finance, Space Technology, Oil Exploration, Fashon, Music etc
    It's good to have a diverse economy. Strong business links with India could be a very good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Just as its not easy to remove Bobby Moore/ 1966 soccer world cup victory from the English national memory, so also the brutal Jalianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar still affects Indians emotionally.
    The reassurances have to come from the UK establishment that in the intervening 96 years the mindset has changed from being brutal masters to that of mutual respect to enable trade ties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @38 Why? Because the consequences of these acts live on. Africa, South America, India etc are poorer today (and Europeans wealthier) because of the systematic looting undertaken by colonialists. Those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The fact that the UK is still doing things it'll have to apologise for in the future shows how very true that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Despite having a very poor human rights record, the British have never felt the need to apologise for anything. I doubt that will change now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    @bigos1 Doesn't seem to have stopped them wanting to come and live in the UK.what makes british to spent 200 years in India..indian comes to uk and work hard to earn living, mostly respect british culture,society and laws .and world knows the purpose of 200 years spent in india in colonial days....definately not hardwork for living..was it??

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @ 13. Spigz

    As an Indian, I beg to differ. I would like to see an example of whole positive influence you are talking about. On the other hand maybe India would have been better than Chinese without its natural resources depleted?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Does it matter now. The people that did it are no longer there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    There is no country with history that is blame free.The Americans should say sorry to the Native Indians,Spain should say sorry for all but 3 countries in Latin America,France for Northern Africa,good G-d, we made mistakes as we were not so enlightened in those times,so what about black-on-black slavery in 1600's.It's more important we solve the problems we have now in world,& LEARN FROM THE PAST

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Instead of General dyer been given any punishment he was awarded on his return to birtain and given an honour..for the sake of humanity there is no harm in accepting mistakes have been done..

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @ GDK " havent forgotten days of british raj and there are several bad examples which has left life long affect on indians mind and souls"
    Doesn't seem to have stopped them wanting to come and live in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The young Winston Churchill, though colonial, was one of the few MPs to condemn the Amritsar Massacre and urge the House of Commons to punish General Dyer.


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