Shashi Tharoor at the Emirates Literature Festival Dubai Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: A member of the British royal family should visit Amritsar in India next year, on the centenary of a “massacre” there during British colonial rule, to apologise, Indian historian and author Dr Shashi Tharoor suggested in Dubai on Saturday.

His comments came during a discussion with British author William Dalrymple about Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, Tharoor’s new book, at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Dr Tharoor, who is also an Indian member of parliament, said: “Britain really needs to do three things if it really wants to come to terms with its [colonial] history”, including teaching “unvarnished colonial history in its school system”, and “create a museum that depicts the history of [British] imperial rule so that when people come to London, they can also add this to their tourist itinerary.

“But the third thing and perhaps the most difficult of all would be, very simply, an apology. There is the perfect opportunity looming. Next year on the 13th of April, 2019, we’ll have the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, or the ‘Amritsar massacre’, as some know it,” Dr Tharoor added.

Although the massacre, believed by some accounts to have killed around 1,300 unarmed men, women and children, “is not by any means the worst atrocity of the [British] Raj, in terms of numbers,” he said, “it seems to be, collectively, the single worst atrocity of the British Raj in India — something that showcases everything that was wrong about the empire”.

He was referring to what he viewed as various failings and crimes, such as a biased and lenient British inquiry into the incident, unprofessional conduct of the press, and “cruelty” in which the incident unfolded.

Perpetuating British rule

“And that’s why, if on April 13, 2019, on the centenary when India will be marking the horror of that particular day, if a member of the British royal family — since after all everything was done in the name of the Crown — were to come to Amritsar and apologise, I think it would go a long way towards cleansing the British soul of this awful sin,” Dr Tharoor said.

Speaking about his book, he said: “It’s essentially an argument that takes you through the various consequences of British rule in India. The arguments about all the good things the Brits have supposed to have done, which I demonstrate in every case, the valuable things the British left behind, had been introduced not for the benefit of Indians, but to perpetuate British rule, enhance British control, or increase British profit.”