By quite co-incidence Venky Vembu has published a similar post. Even I was thinking of that Elton John classic for my title of this piece. Venky’s excellent article entitled: ‘shinde-to-cameron why sorry seems to be the hardest word‘ suggests:
A heartfelt “sorry”, it would appear, is just about the hardest word in the English lexicon for politicians to unburden themselves of.
This is in reference to David Cameron’s visit to India this week. He has visited the Golden Temple and just outside one of the four entrances is the famous park called Jallianwala Bagh. NB The Indianoil advert is quite inappropriate!
On Sunday 13th April 1919 my Grandfather was one of thousands attending a public meeting. Luckily he survived but thousands didn’t as they were shot at by Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer. The background is that Dyer heard about the meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people including women, children and the elderly at Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer went with fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to shoot at the crowd. Dyer continued the firing until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted. The crowd ran for cover but all they could find were deep wells. Their deaths were horrific, egged on by malice in the hearts of those who commanded.
On 13 March 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, an Indian independence activist from Sunam who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and was himself wounded, shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the British Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, who had approved Dyer’s action and was believed to be the main planner. (Dyer himself had died in 1927).
In years to come more would die at new country borders as the British divided up India.
Cameron acknowledgement of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as a “deeply shameful event” fell short of a formal apology. Later he even justified why an apology would not work?!
Politics is littered with half and full apologies. However, I believe that it is never too late to express regret, portray genuine empathy and seek both truth and reconciliation. For example, in South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation tribunals was based on the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995 (pdf).
Interestingly, the Labour party under Gordon Brown issued an apology to Australians back in 2009/10.
Gordon Brown is to offer a formal apology to tens of thousands of British children forcibly sent to Commonwealth countries during the last century, many of whom faced abuse and a regime of unpaid labour rather than the better life they were promised.
On the outlook there appears to be a difference in approach that cannot be attributed to the severity of the deed. There are no degrees of measure to what constitutes enough damage to warrant regret, regardless of the perpetrator. Mr Cameron needs to realise that part of accepting the role of a leader in society or a political party, he is compelled to accept its legacy and heritage.
If I was cynical I would suggest that recent statements are made in the context of trading concessions. Everyone smiles yet behind the mask as there are millions of Dollars at stake for new agreements! Sky News suggested that the UK will ‘just have to join the queue’ as other state heads visit India to secure contracts.
We need to recognise that the UK has a rich connection with India. The word ‘rich’ is stronger than most people realise. For example, through spices, The East India Company, railways, buildings, bridges, hill stations, army connections, maharaja politics, births, land line/border distortions and diamond acquisitions (!) The legacy and record of the British Commonwealth and other colonialists is nothing to be proud of. What has been left behind by many of these powers is a tangled infrastructure that constrains or constricts progression. This is further perpetuated by political stooges and a fear to change for the better. India may be succeeding in answering your call centre queries but can it solve its problems in society given its prehistoric police systems, cast hangups and inequality – the latter also brought out in recent crimes against women.
India needs to be bolder in asking the UK why it has fallen short of a full apology. It deserves more than token poses. Sorry is probably the hardest word because it is an admittance of the British intent to damage and leave alone, i.e: as true revelations are incomplete and hidden.
Image below, The Jallianwala Bagh memorial