Parliament proceedings: Rajya Sabha passes Jallianwala Memorial Trust Bill

Congress president is no longer trustee

November 19, 2019 10:15 pm | Updated 10:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Prahlad Singh Patel. File

Prahlad Singh Patel. File

The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust will no longer have the Congress president as a member, and the Central government will have the power to end any member’s five-year term before its expiry, according to an amendment passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (Amendment) Act, 2019, which had been passed by the Lok Sabha on August 2, replaced the Congress president as a member of the trust with the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or the leader of the single largest Opposition party in case there is no Leader of Opposition.

After the massacre, when British forces fired on around 1,500 protesters in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919, the Trust was first set up by then Congress president Motilal Nehru in 1920. After independence, the government brought the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951, which made then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as life-long members. The other trustees were the Congress president, and the Punjab Chief Minister and Governor, and three members to be nominated by the government.

‘3 minor amendments’

Urging the House to pass the Bill, Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel said there were “three minor amendments that would help in improving the memorial to those who lost their lives in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre”.

Later, responding to concerns raised by the Congress, Mr. Patel said: “You could have accused us of politicising if we had replaced the Congress president with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) president.”

He added that while the Congress president was named as a trustee, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi chaired a meeting of the Trust in 1970, when she was not the party’s president. “In what capacity did she chair the meeting?” he asked. Also, he said, in 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, then Congress president Sonia Gandhi chaired the Trust’s meeting. “Who made a joke of the Trust? Who played with the rules?” he asked.

‘Rewriting history’

While the Congress opposed the amendment, with MP Pratap Singh Bajwa terming it a “rewriting of history”, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Janata Dal (United) and the YSR Congress welcomed it. Many parties, including the All India Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Aam Aadmi Party, said it was the government’s prerogative to appoint trustees. The Biju Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) spoke against the removal of the Congress president from the trust.

Referring to the change of the uniforms worn by Rajya Sabha marshals on Monday, Mr. Bajwa said: “Changing uniforms is fine, but change your thinking.”

BJP MP and member of the Trust, Shwait Malik, a resident of Amritsar, said the amendment had brought an “end to injustice”.

“In the future, there should be no politics on sites of martyrdom. The place [Jallianwala Bagh] was in a pathetic condition over 70 years of the Congress-led Trust, and now, in six months of Mr. Modi’s Trust, there has been a lot of development,” he said.

‘Be magnanimous’

Prasanna Acharya of the BJD appealed to the government to be “magnanimous”. “By removing the Congress president from the trust, you cannot change the history of the freedom movement,” he said.

Speaking of his experience of visiting Jallianwala Bagh, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Tiruchi Siva said: “Instead of being maintained as a national site of the freedom struggle, it has become a tourist site...We cannot view the freedom struggle without the contribution of the Congress.”

Balwinder Singh Bhunder of the Shiromani Akali Dal said that instead of arguing over the members of the Trust, there should be discussion on policies for the welfare of the families of martyrs.

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