India Has Love-Hate Tie to Britain
Oct. 14, 1997
AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath of marigolds today at a walled park where British colonial troops massacred 300 Indians. But for Mahesh Behl _ whose grandfather died there _ her ``special gesture'' fell short of an outright apology.
However, the 10-minute wreath-laying ceremony was enough to convince some in this northern border city of the British monarch's good will, and they welcomed her with pomp and joyful shouts.
The queen was on her third visit to India, but her first to Amritsar, site of a 1919 massacre that galvanized the Indian independence movement.
She called the killings ``distressing'' in a speech Monday. Some relatives of those killed said that amounted to an apology. But it was not enough for Behl, a 51-year-old businessman whose grandfather was among the peaceful Hindus killed at the walled Jallianwala Bagh park.
``We heard the story from our grandmother, who used to tell how her husband went knowing something could happen at Jallianwala Bagh, but not knowing it would be this kind of brutality,'' said Behl.
Today, several leftist groups continued to insist on an outright apology from the queen, but were able to muster only a few small, scattered protests. Police used clubs to disperse at least two small demonstrations before the queen's plane arrived.
For many in Amritsar, the queen's visit itself was taken as an apology.
``It was a very good thing that she came here,'' said 20-year-old Parminder Singh.
British officials had said that although the queen would not apologize, the laying of a wreath at the site of the massacre should be taken as a ``very special gesture.''
Fifty years after independence, a thread of ambivalence runs through India's relationship with its former ruler. Indian papers on Monday gleefully headlined a report _ later officially denied _ that India's Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had called Britain a ``third-rate power.''
The queen is touring the region to mark the 50th anniversary of the subcontinent's independence from Britain.
Among those eager to welcome her in Amritsar were senior Sikh priests, her guides on a visit through their Golden Temple.
Sikh leader Manjit Singh Calcutta seemed particularly pleased the visit had brought a stream of foreign reporters to the Golden Temple, target of a 1984 Indian army raid to drive out Sikh separatists.
``Now the world will see that the Golden Temple is not a den of terrorists. It is a place of calm and meditation,'' Calcutta said.