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 240.


    You're clearly clueless (like many ignorant Brits) about the atrocities committed under evil British Empire for centuries. I don't blame you but the British Education System, which focuses on how bad Hitler was & racist Churchill's heroism but never about slavery, Jallianwala bagh massacre, genocide of Aborigines, etc. So Brits, drop down on your knees & beg for mercy. APOLOGISE !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    #213 Indians seved in the Japanese army of World War 2. Is India going to aplogise to the nations of SE Asia?

  • Comment number 238.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    The English here are bitter about not receiving an apology from Japan for something that happened almost 70 years ago and on a much smaller scale, yet they argue against apologising to India because "it was so long ago" and "only 1000 people" and "they should first apologise for what they did to others". The English yesterday and today are unable to see their hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Lets cut that crap out & talk straight.

    What UK can do FOR India (not few elites as it did in the past) & what India can do for UK! Simple..
    It's more like what India can do for uk end of! India is in a far more stronger position to make demands and if an apology helps the millions of people see the british in a new light why the hell not? Cameron should apologise end of!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    demerara-i don't expect one i am here because i have nothing to do today and slightly frustated due to some person reasons..they are ignorant and arrogant and i just want them to do some google searching of things about past apart from poverty of india.the level of ignorance can be seen when they take pride on aid of millions and ignore they want defence deals of billions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    If Britain can extract an apology from Germany & Japan for their wrongdoings lasting 3-4 years, then it's only fair Britain should apology for their enslaving people, racial discrimination, economic exploitation, asset-stripping, abuse of indigenous populations, genocide and their culture & heritage destroyed lasting 2-3 centuries. Empire's evil by far outweighs the good it ever did - if any.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Isn't it so pathetic that most of the looted money by British Raj was confined to its elites? British prosperity started percolating among common people after late 1940s, when income from its colonies were diminishing.

    UK Govt can't sustain even 1/2 of fund needed by its once mighty universities. Now they need corruption/blood money from rich Indian students & offer its Indian cronies a show-off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Andrew North has stirred up a real honets nest on this subject.It doesn't matter really what we say here on this site in the end. All it does is creates animosity between peoples instead of building bridges and how we can work together for a better future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    It is appalling to read the comments here from people who refuse to acknowledge the incredible damage British colonialism did.

    An apology is the least Britain owes its former colonies, it should also pay reparations.

    Additionally, many of the world's problems are today were caused by British imperialism - e.g Northern Ireland, Palestine-Israel, etc. Britain owes the world an apology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Will the Indians proffer an apology for the Black Hole of Calcutta, then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Dev: We're wasting our time. These people will never show humility and remorse. They have the same arrogance now that they had in the past.
    Time to leave this bitter, sick horse where it is and move on to bigger and better things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Can UK afford to give so many wealth back to India they looted- e.g the diamond (Kohinoor) that decorate the crown of British queen? Where is the decency of a 'great' ruler of not displaying looted gem so publicly, that too with its constitutional head?

    Lets cut that crap out & talk straight.

    What UK can do FOR India (not few elites as it did in the past) & what India can do for UK! Simple..

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    205.Ian & 203.Peter R

    Thousands (if not millions) are alive who's clearly witnessed & at the receiving end of the injustice they suffered by the brutal regime oc British Empire. It's only few decades ago & not centuries ago. UK's apologised for Bloody Sunday & extracted apology from Nazi German & Imperial Japan, so it's about time Britain apologise for its own crime under evil British Empire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    British genocide of the Indians was worse than the Nazi genocide of the Jews. They were evil to the Indians: They destroyed all their industries and schools rendering them poor and illiterate; they let them die, starve to death in dozens of famines claiming the lives of tens of millions and leaving the others in destitution. If we still can't forgive the Nazis today, why should we forgive Britain?

  • Comment number 225.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    An apology from this increasingly irrelevant country will mean nothing. They got to where they are today from looting and killing. Now that the loot has run out, we're left with a nation where the main source of income is JobSeekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.
    Generally, the only hard-working people here are the immigrants. Brits are lazy and care nothing for education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    I'm not sure if UK would like to open the Pandora's box of its colonial past to face legal/financial consequence (as Germany did).

    Britain is not in a position to offer much to India, expect few more students (2nd grade ones with money/influence) & some desperate ones to settle in UK. Good Indian students & manpower don't favor UK over other "better" countries with less racial discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    You know what, if someone asks me to make him an omelette for them, I don't expect to have to apologise after for breaking some eggs. Never apologise.

    Meanwhile, are we still talking about India as though it's going to be significant player at some time or other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    211.ConnorMacLeod & 204.chrisj

    India's refused UK's aid but British government wanting to claim the moral high ground continues to ram these "peanuts" down their throat - 23 pence per Indian per year. Anyhow, India's a net donor with its own aid programme. Besides, whatever British give would always be a drop in a vast ocean of the wealth they looted out of India for centuries.


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