MOVING THE FLAME FROM AMAR JAWAN JYOTI TO THE NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL

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Amar Jawan Jyoti India Gate
National War Memorial

   

Millions of Indians watched the poignant ceremony that saw officers in full ceremonial regalia undertaking the solemn and symbolic merger.

    But even as the epochal moment was playing out a rancorous protest erupted behind the scenes. More than one critic of the Modi-led NDA acerbically observed that a “power drunk” Prime Minister after toying with Kisan sentiments, was now flagrantly insulting the honour of the fallen Jawan. The NDA was accused of hubristically re-imagining India in its own twisted ideological vision. That in its hurry to do so it would stop at nothing even if that meant snuffing out the eternal flame that illuminated the heroism of the martyrs of the 1971 Bangladesh War.

    There’s little doubt that since 1972 the Amar Jawan Jyoti has been the most brightly flickering tribute to the 3,483 brave soldiers who played a heroic part in the cataclysmic cleaving of Pakistan that indelibly scarred that countries collective psyche.

    But it is also true that the febrile recriminations that we have heard over the last few days are based, at best, on what is only the illusion of an insult.

KNOW THE FACTS

    First, the facts. The eternal flame honouring the Amar Jawan has not been extinguished. It had merely been merged with the flame that burns out of a giant torch placed at the heart of the National War Memorial.

    This merger was an expected natural progression as the National War Memorial, which was inaugurated in 2019, is intended as a homage to martyrs of conflicts after Independence. Moreover, it had become the site of almost all recent military tributes.

    Secondly, the Amar Jawan Jyoti was always a makeshift memorial housed temporarily under the arch of India Gate. Ever since it was dedicated to the nation in 1972 the understanding was that the flame would be shifted to a more elaborate and permanent memorial. But somehow the endeavour to construct a national martyr’s memorial was not pursued and the Amar Jawan Jyoti found itself in a somewhat awkward limbo. As a default memorial, if you like, commemorating the sacrifice of the unknown soldier of the 1971 Bangladesh War under an archway built to celebrate the fighting spirit of Indian British Army Soldiers.

    Indeed, India Gate was built as a tribute to the fallen soldiers who fought under the British Flag in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The names of the combatants had been etched into the masonry of the structure. But no such etched-in-stone honour was given to the 1971 soldiers nor was a new memorial dedicated to them. The real assault on history then isn’t so much that the eternal flame was moved but the fact that for decades we consigned the heroes of 1971 to live on in posthumous anonymity—their gallantry symbolised by an unknown soldier.

         REAL HONOUR FOR 1971 HEROES

    Why on earth should the relatives of the fallen braves of 1971 have to salute the memory of an unknown soldier when their loss was clearly definable to them? And why couldn’t the state have bothered to erect a permanent monument all these years?

    In fact, the delay in constructing a permanent memorial in particularly jarring when one considers that in America the Vietnam War Memorial was built in 1980 (made from stone panels quarried from a site near Bengaluru in fact) within a few years of the end of that conflict. What’s more, the state paid their heroes an individual tribute by listing the names of which of each of the 58,320 men and women who died. That’s 58,320 names etched in stone.

    Frankly, India Gate—an Artistic Arc de Triomphe-as a house for the Amar Jawan Jyoti masks a travesty. It may have been intended as a tribute to the hundreds of India’s bravest who fought for the British, but it is also a monument to British immorality. India Gate lists the names of Indian conscripts that had no choice but to fight someone else’s arguably unjust was waged to preserve illegal colonial acquisitions. Worse, outside the trench these Indians were never considered equals to their British counterparts. They were all but canon-fodder.

ESSENCE OF INDIA

    While this dark fact does not take anything away from the valour of our ancestors, it does put a question mark over India Gate as the choice of a memorial to honour the sacrifice of those martyred in 1971. For one should never forget that the braves who died during the Bangladesh War sacrificed themselves to preserve lofty ideals: inclusiveness, liberty and equality—the very essence of India.

    It is plain to see why the New National War Memorial is by far better suited to house the eternal flame of gallantry.

Rahul Shivshanker

Editor-in-Chief. Times Now

Compiled by Kamlesh Tripathi

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