British PM Theresa May voices regret over Jallianwala Bagh massacre
London, Apr 11: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday expressed "regret" in Parliament for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the killings on April 13.
In a statement, at the start of her weekly Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, she reiterated the "regret" already expressed by the British government.
This came came after MPs from across the political parties called for the formal apology during a debate on Tuesday afternoon.
The massacre took place in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on Baisakhi in April 1919 when the British Indian Army troops, under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer, fired machine guns at a crowd of people holding a pro-independence demonstration.
Colonial-era records show about 400 people died in the northern city of Amritsar when soldiers opened fire on men, women and children in an enclosed area, but Indian figures put the toll at closer to 1,000.
"The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh of 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history. As Her Majesty the Queen (Elizabeth II) said before visiting Jallianwala Bagh in 1997, it is a distressing example of our past history with India," she said in her statement.
"We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused. I am pleased that today the UK-India relationship is one of collaboration, partnership, prosperity and security. Indian diaspora make an enormous contribution to British society and I am sure the whole House wishes to see the UK's relationship with India continue to flourish," she said.
Foreign Office Minister Mark Field had told MPs that he had been "compelled" by the arguments to raise the issue of going further than the "deepest regret" expressed over the killings during the British Raj.
"I feel that we perhaps need to go further... I have now been persuaded - not just by this debate - to take a different approach," the minister said, adding that the government had to also consider the "financial implications" of any apology for events of the past.
"These issues are an important way of trying to draw a line under the past. Therefore, this is work in progress and I cannot make any promises," he said, holding out some hope of a formal apology over the incident.
The debate was tabled by Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman, who opened proceedings with a strong sentiment of "shame" as he called on the British government to apologise.
During a previous debate in the House of Lords earlier in the year, it was confirmed that UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was "reflecting" on demands for a formal apology to mark the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre this week.
Following Theresa May's latest statement on the issue in the Commons, it remains to be seen if the UK government will follow up with any further statements in the lead up to the 100th anniversary on Saturday.
(With inputs from PTI)