Colombo, April 13 (newsin.asia): Dr.Shashi Tharoor, Chairman of the Indian parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, has proposed that the British government atone for the massacre of 379 innocent civilians at Jallianwala Bagh in the Punjabi town of Amritsar on April 13, 1919, which outraged Indians and shook the very foundation of British rule in India.
In an interview to Santhosh Menon at the Indian CEO’s Forum here recently, Tharoor said that he does not believe that getting reparations will be meaningful because the loss is invaluable, but feels that atonement is appropriate.
He suggested that at the centenary of the massacre in 2019, a member of the British Royal Family or the British Prime Minister, should visit the scene of the crime, kneel down, and seek pardon in a public act of atonement.
Without asking the thousands of people gathered in the enclosed park to disperse or firing warning shots in the air, Brig.Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered his Gurkha troops to fire on the crowd as they were trying to escape through the small gate and a narrow alley. More than 1600 rounds were fired.
People had gathered at the park partly for Baisakhi celebrations and partly to protest against the repressive Rowlatt Act passed in February that year. The Rowlatt Act had extended the life of the First World War Defense of India Rules of 1915 to contain the Indian freedom movement which the British thought was Russian communist inspired.
The House of Lords hailed Dyer’s strong action and writer Rudyard Kipling named him the “Man who saved India”. But Indians were livid because 1.3 million of them had fought for Britain in the 1914-1918 World War I and had contributed 305 million pounds sterling or 18 billion pounds sterling as per present value, as Tharoor put it.
The House of Commons however censured Dyer and forced him to retire. But the British government did not apologize, though when David Cameroon came to India as Prime Minister in February 2013, he laid a wreath at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial.
Britain had other things to answer for also, Tharoor pointed out. It had looted resources, the present day value of which will be three to four trillion pounds sterling, he estimated.
But Tharoor did not think that India should seek compensation for this. His suggestion was that, apart from an apology, the curriculum in British schools should include colonial history, which is honest with warts and all, and not just a heroic picture as it is now.
Tharoor said that he had asked India’s “nationalist” government led by Narendra Modi to seek an apology, but to no effect.
Perception is Reality
Asked about the on-going and sustained campaign to denigrate India’s early leaders like Nehru and Gandhi, Tharoor said that we are living in an era when leaders who portray themselves as powerful knights in shining armor make a great impression. Their promise to provide drastic solutions to problems enjoy credibility, in contrast to the utterances of more sedate leaders of the past whose ideas about what India should be were ideologically different.
Since “reality” is what is “perceived”, the mass media, including social media, create “perceptions”. Political leaders and political parties which use social media extensively like Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are able to create perceptions suited to their political goals, Tharoor said.
The social media could however be a double edged sword, he warned. The “facts” aired through the social media could well be fake, and unless the receivers fact check by reading reputed authors or check through fact checking websites, wrong notions about men and matters could gain currency easily.
However, an active social media can prevent dictatorial tendencies from taking root. News of wrong doings can also spread like wild fire. This is the reason why Tharoor thinks that India, with an ever expanding social media base, will never come under dictatorship.
The Congress party, to which he belongs, is still to take to twitter, while Prime Minister Modi has already earned laurels as the “King of Twitter” and had made his ministers tweet. The Congress is still in the grip of the older generation given the fact that the average age of the members of the Working Committee is 73, Tharoor pointed out.
Asked what makes him stick to the Congress, which is perceived as a party without a future, Tharoor said that India needs a party like the Congress with a history of sacrifice for the national cause; which is socially and communally inclusive; and which, under a leader like Rahul Gandhi, could have a collective leadership which is willing to learn from the people about their felt needs.
Rahul does not portray himself as a know-all or a deliverer, but is humble enough to ask people what they want, Tharoor said. The parliamentarian believes that he has a future in the Congress, not as the top leader, but as someone who can contribute to the collective thinking in the party with his knowledge and communication skills.
He did not agree with perception that the Congress is dead, as many in the Indian upper middle class India believe. He pointed out that while the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh is trumpeted, the fact that it lost Punjab to the Congress and did not emerge as the single largest party in Goa and Manipur, is brushed under the carpet. Power gained in one election can be lost in the next if performance is poor as election results have continually shown, Tharoor said.
A former Under Secretary General of the UN, Tharoor is a historian and author of 17 books, both fiction and on-fiction.
(The image featured at the top is that of Dr.Shashi Tharoor)