Comment

Putting back the ‘national’ in the Jallianwala Bagh trust

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The Central government has reasons to recast the way the memorial and its trust are run — not as a political fiefdom

Visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab is nothing less than a pilgrimage for an Indian. This place stands witness to the sacrifices and the struggles made by the people of India. One is deeply humbled by the sacrifices made and it would be no exaggeration to say that every particle of the soil here breathes a great history and a story of courage. It is for this reason that the government has decided that the soil from Jallianwala Bagh is to be a part of the National Museum, Delhi, so that every Indian can have a glimpse of it and can express gratitude towards the sacrifices made. We believe that the soil, which is a symbol of sacrifice and patriotism, be established as a part of India’s national heritage.

A pan-Indian right

Moving to another point. A trust for a special site such as Jallianwala Bagh cannot be formed on the basis of a political approach. There are some institutions and places in our society or in the country that are above the reach of politics. So, we should think about them beyond politics and party lines. This was the reason why the Prime Minister has noted that every countryman has a right over this trust rather than it being the fiefdom of any political party. This was why the Central government thought of restructuring the trust. This was also why the government said that to nominate any person of a political party would be unfair not only to this trust but also to the entire country.

Trust’s working

The memories of the tragedy at Jallianwala Bagh, when on April 13, 1919 the British massacred unarmed countrymen, women, children, and elderly included, still stirs the conscience of India. There is no comparision or similar instance in the entire world of such an inhuman act. It was this tragic incident that led to the decision of building a memorial at the spot where hundreds lost their lives. Motilal Nehru led this campaign, and it was under his chairmanship that a session of the Indian National Congress was held in Amritsar in December 1919.

Jallianwala Bagh, about 6.27 acres in area, was purchased from its 37 private owners for a sum of ₹50,000. The amount was collected with the contributions of the people and the land registered on September 20, 1920.

The trustees owned and managed the place from 1920 to 1951. The Jalianwala Bagh National Memorial Act came into effect in May, 1951. The first meeting of the trust was held on December 9, 1952. Here, an amount of ₹50,000 was accepted for the acquisition of vacant houses. Another meeting of the Trust, in December, 1953, saw the acquisition of an additional 12 vacant houses, which was approved for a sum of ₹14,988. An amount of ₹2,572 was left from the previously approved funds for the acquisition of houses. Therefore, the amount of ₹12,416 (the remainder) was shared by the Central government and the Government of Punjab. In a meeting in December 1953, a sum of ₹577 was approved for the installation of iron fencing around the wall. The Government of India also sanctioned a sum of ₹7.51 crore for the redevelopment of the monument (2006-07). All this information shows that whenever funds were raised for the trust, these were from the people of this country, or the trust, or sometimes the State or the Central governments. It can also be said that the Congress never sanctioned any money from its party’s fund for the memorial. There was no receipt or cheque from any treasurer or any officer of the Congress party.

In 1951, when Jawaharlal Nehru constituted the Jallianwala Bagh Trust, Dr. Saifuddin Kichlu and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were made lifelong trustees. In addition, the President of the Indian National Congress, the Governor of Punjab, the Chief Minister of Punjab and three nominated members of the Central government were designated as members of the trust. But, the seriousness and dedication of the Congress towards the trust can be gauged from the fact that the vacancies that arose after the passing of Jawaharlal Nehru (May 27, 1964), Dr. Saifuddin Kichlu (October 9, 1963) and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (February 22, 1958), were not filled. The government does not have the documents related to this.

As one party’s zone

Further proof of the working of the trust was highlighted in 1970 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi passed a resolution in February 1970 on behalf of the trustees, in her capacity as chairman of the trust. While Mrs Gandhi’s signature on this resolution as its chairman is on record, information about when she joined the trust and in what capacity are unavailable. The Congress president was Babu Jagjivan Ram. The Congress has no clarification of how Babu Jagjivan Ram was not a part of the trust despite being the Congress President. In August 1998, a meeting of trust was held again, this time chaired by Sonia Gandhi as President of the Congress. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister, was not invited to be a part of the meeting. Therefore, it is very clear that the trust was being run as per convenience instead of following rules and regulations.

The structure of the trust was again amended in 2006. The Prime Minister had to be its chairman but there is no evidence that the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, ever chaired the trust during his tenure. Apart from this, the Congress President, the Minister of Culture, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Governor of Punjab, the Chief Minister of Punjab and three Members nominated by the Central government would be its members. The former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, Sardar Umrao Singh and Birendra Katariya, a former Member of Parliament, were nominated for the period 2005-2010. During his tenure as Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral was neither invited nor made a member of the trust. It is in the light of these that the present government has felt that governance of the trust must be taken more seriously and has initiated definite changes in the way it is run. The Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (Amendment) Bill, 2019 supports this.

Prahlad Singh Patel is Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 6:04:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/putting-back-the-national-in-the-jallianwala-bagh-trust/article30090241.ece

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