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
    -1

    Comment number 520.

    Yes, we should apologize to India. However I do not feel inspired to apologize to people who think they are the only victims in the world. I have spoken of the holocaust to many Indians and am appalled at the indifference. It's just another manifestation of tribalism when a people think their nation is the only one worth worrying about or that they are as a nation beyond committing atrocities.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 519.

    How is an apology going to fix anything. The best apology would be to strip the royal family of their titles and assets and return them to the people they were stolen from.....to posthumously declare every Brit soldier in India a criminal and strip them of any medal or award....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 518.

    Oh Tonep, by chance didn't you mean to comment on the Daily Mail’s website? I mean the BBC website is usually for people who are aware of current affairs, politics, economy and social issues not for xenophobic right wingers who base their opinions on half-baked screaming headlines.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 517.

    Many in Britain supported General Dyer. Rudyard Kipling, who claimed Dyer was "the man who saved India", started a benefit fund which raised over 26,000 pounds sterling, including 50 pounds contributed by Kipling himself. The money was presented to Dyer when he settled in England on his retirement.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 516.

    I can't see what harm it does to apologize for past mistakes done by a country to another one. It shows that we have moved on.

    People are very keen to get the Japanese to apologize for WWII atrocities (rightly so in my opinion). Or do people think that these apologies should only go one way?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 515.

    Tonep, for the millions below the poverty line, the government has put into place social welfare schemes for health, education and jobs. NGOs are working in tandem and the results are showing. Polio has been eradicated, millions of poor children go to school under the Right to Education porgramme, women get free healthcare. I am sure, give it a couple of years, the situation will improve further.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 514.

    Tonep, the past decade of growth has seen millions become middle and upper middle class, while the poor have moved to lower income group. With an increased spending power, Tesco to Jaguar, everyone wants a pie in Indian market. That’s why the PM has gone with a delegation of 100 and that’s why he has apologized for the massacre, while you sitting on your high horse can only harp about poverty!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 513.

    120.outhousemouse

    I don't think India's wealth was "stolen" - it's "plundered" in broad daylight. Wealth accumulated over centuries of pillaging helped fund social security, NHS, free education, infrastructure, etc. - which every British citizen benefitted from. Where do you think the money came from?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 512.

    Apology would not go further, if its done for business gains. It should also reflect what Britain didn't like about its past.
    Having said that Britain is a very different country now, although its media is very predatory and has to learn to appreciate culture and weaknesses of other countries. It must try its to not perpetuate wrong beliefs about Countries like India.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 511.

    Ooh we have a clever Brit trying to put India in the same bracket as North Korea. The space and nuclear programmes started right after the British left. Nuclear because ‘Great’ Britain divided the country and left an unstable neighbour which became nuclear; space programme for studying weather, agriculture, education. Are you blaming a country for trying to develop when it was left in tatters?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 510.

    Correction to article, Amritsar Massacre: article states 1000 mown down. Reality : 379 killed (exact figure), 1200 wounded (approximation). Source: House of Commons debate, 8 July 1920.

    "This is not the British way of doing business." W. S. Churchill, 8th July 1920, House of Commons, "General Dyer's conduct deserved not only the loss of employment.... but also... a disctinct disciplinary act."

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 509.

    508 tonep: Since independence we've not had a single famine of the same scale as we had multiple times during the Raj, so thanks, we're doing a little bit better than that pathetic performance from you lot.

  • Comment number 508.

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

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 507.

    from yesterday to now..some sane voices from britain seem to emerge...those seem to b more knowledgeable of past british raj and accpet the wrongs...Others still tell us our faults n our social problems..But How being poor on human development index allows british to kill us ? Just can't understand the logic.was saddam right in gasing Iraqis or hitler in kiling jews coz each considred them bad ppl

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 506.

    just open bbc and for india they show poor indians and british people feel pity and pride look what happened when we left.but for people who know india contributed 23% of world gdp in 1700 and it came to 1%in 1947.they are suggesting look that's our capacity to loot. and we enjoy your poverty and continue to enjoy the wealth we plundered from you and why we be sorry its our granda who did that.

  • Comment number 505.

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

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 504.

    A meaningless apology one hundred years later by a man who seeks only to gain favour, and an apology that only emphasises we stand against each other, will do no good. If you really want to make a difference ensure the next generation is an even further step away from our unflattering past. Teach them about our History, make Politics a compulsory subject. Bring up a better generation of people.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 503.

    Of course we should apologise for the atrocity committed at Amritsar in 1919. It was exactly that - an atrocity. How can the mass murder of UNARMED civilians be classed in any other way? The actions of General Dyer that day were a disgrace to our country. The apology should be full and unconditional. The matter of trade is totally irrelevant to this argument.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 502.

    @499. The difference is that the people behind the Indian Mutiny were fighting for their freedom from the tyrannical British "Raj", whilst the invading foreign forces massacred unarmed civilians in their own country. If it had happened in recent years, senior British civilian/military officials would be on trial at the Hague for war crimes. An apology is the least that is required!!!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 501.

    Humans emerged in Africa and went on to colonise the world leading to, amongst other things, the extinction of the Neanderthals.

    Its all Africa’s fault.

    Its they who should apologise for everything that any human has ever done.

    Or we could accept that history bought us to where we are today, its been traumatic at times but we are getting better at living together.

 

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