British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday described the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as “a deeply shameful act in British history” but stopped short of a public apology as demanded by several groups here.
Cameron, who became the first British Prime Minister to visit the massacre site in 94 years, wrote in the visitors’ book of Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust: “This was a deeply shameful act in British history — one that Winston Churchill rightly described at that time as ‘monstrous’.”
“We must never forget what happened here,” he wrote, underlining the word ‘never’. “We must ensure that United Kingdom stands up for the right of peaceful protest around the world,” he concluded.
Although Cameron did not use the word apology, his noting in the visitors’ book is being seen as an indirect way of expressing regret. “He knelt down on his knees to lay the wreath. He also observed silence for a minute. I think it is an indirect way of (tendering) an apology. Even more than that,” said Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust secretary S K Mukherjee, whose grandfather was one of the survivors of the 1919 massacre.
Cameron’s noting was in total contrast to what Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip said during their visit to the site in 1997. While the Queen had called it a distressing episode but added that history cannot be rewritten, Phillip had said the incident as projected was exaggerated.
Cameron spent nearly 20 minutes at the massacre site. While moving towards the memorial, he asked Mukherjee about the well where people had jumped during the massacre. “I pointed towards the well and told him that the bodies of 120 people were taken out of that well. Then he asked me about bullets marks, I pointed towards the wall where bullet marks were present,” Mukherjee said. But Cameron did not go towards the well or the wall.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who minutes before accompanied Cameron to the Golden Temple, chose to stay away.
Cameron landed here at 9.05 am and visited the Golden Temple first. He spent nearly 40 minutes visiting the langar hall, paying obeisance at the sanctum sanctorum and visiting highest temporal seat of Sikhs Akal Takht.