Politicising any occasion is a pastime Indians are somewhat adept at.
The hope that the centenary of a major tragedy encapsulating all the horrific evils of colonial rule would unite Indians has been dashed so definitively that another century may pass before Indians sink their political differences. The UK government may have met Indian expectations halfway with the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, expressing “deep regret”, but not making a formal apology for fear of claims for reparations. India could not have expected more even for the worst excesses of British rule in which Gen. Dyer’s troops from Jalandhar occupied Amritsar and opened indiscriminate fire on people innocently celebrating Baisakhi on April 13, 1919. The colonialists would have to be apologising every other day for atrocities from Australia and beyond down under to the Caribbean islands in and further to the Americas to which the British were latecomers compared to the Aztec gold-grabbing Spanish Empire conquistadors. As a rule, colonial masters, be they Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French or British, do not really regret whatever they did to lord it over the “natives”.
The British were to partition India a quarter of a century after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre had signified the biggest colonial blunder. But they need not have bothered as Indians still stand divided 71 years later, unable to unite even to observe the centenary of an event that should have had all Indians standing in solidarity in memory of the nearly 1,000 victims of a trigger-happy hick general. What happened was symptomatic of India’s singular politics, which is so polarised parties cannot stand together even on such a solemn occasion. The Union government held a ceremony presided over by the vice-president Venkaiah Naidu and which the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, failed to attend. Of course, the state government had held its own event featuring the CM as well as the Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Politicising any occasion is a pastime Indians are somewhat adept at. Soon enough, the centenary was allowed to descend into a regular blame game with distinct poll-time politics.
The Prime Minister himself waded into the row castigating the Punjab CM but, perhaps, realising he is an Army veteran, stepped back a bit, given that nationalism and patriotism is his theme for the polls. The British may have left this land 74 years ago, but not before their divide-and-rule policy was irretrievably imbedded in Indians. The Punjab chief minister was to get back with the revelation that he had tried for two years to make the day a gigantic national occasion but had elicited no response from the Centre. The proximity to polls could not have been the only culprit. It was more the phenomenon of a distressingly divisive Indianness that is to blame for all this. Is there no national cause that will unite the political parties of India regardless of which side of the ideological divide they stand on? The pity is the polemics of diatribe-ridden campaign is being allowed to come in the way of national causes.