Relocating the Amar Jawan Jyoti to the new war memorial is logical and irreproachable

Loud protests heard from various quarters against the removal of the Amar Jawan Jyoti – the eternal flame that honors India’s ‘unknown soldier’ ​​- from its location under the India Gate at the National War Memorial (NWM ) represent not only an irony for Indian Army veterans, but also a deep schism in the socio-political landscape of India.

Let us first address the “schism”. Such is the level of suspicion and distrust of contemporary Indian politics, and the environment is so hot, that every action by the incumbent government is seen as a move to bolster the ruling party’s electoral prospects. Nowhere is this trend more noticeable than in the military sphere. Ever since the Prussian strategist Clausewitz categorized “war as a continuation of politics…”, politicians around the world – from Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher – have shamelessly turned political capital into military achievement.

In India, however, since elections are rampant, governments need to exercise caution in this context and draw “red lines” for themselves. The concern here is not so much unfair party advantage as the corrosive influence of excessive political posturing and exposure, which can undermine the integrity and cohesion of our apolitical military leadership thus far. , as well as the base. The political theater on the displacement of Amar Jawan Jyoti, played live and on social networks, is only the latest manifestation of this schism.

As for the “irony”, it obliges us to come back to recent history. For as long as anyone can remember, the Indian military had sadly noted what seemed to be not only a lack of gratitude, but also an acknowledgment, on the part of their compatriots, of the sacrifices of their soldiers. Since November 3, 1947, when valiant Major Somnath Sharma fell in the Battle of Badgam, winning India’s first Param Vir Chakra, there has hardly been a day in the life of our beleaguered nation when a grieving family somewhere did not welcome a hero home. – someone’s father, son or husband, brought to the door in a tricolor draped coffin.

For years after independence, when our capricious media superficially took note of such episodes, politicians carefully ignored the sacrifices of soldiers to uphold the integrity of the nation. As the adventurism of our neighbors led to conflict in 1947, 1962, 1965 and 1971, calls from veterans and citizens that the bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces deserved recognition in the form of a war memorial continued to fall on political ears.

This indifference contrasted sharply with the attitude of other nations. Whether it is the Arlington Memorial in Washington, the Cenotaph in London, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or the Liberation War Memorial in Dhaka, these magnificent monuments have recognized the sacrifice of their warriors and allowed their fellow citizens to pay homage to them. Finally, in recognition of the sacrifices of our soldiers, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inaugurated the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate on January 26, 1972. The sense of relief and elation at this belated gesture was such that the most of us have overlooked two glaring incongruities.

First, the location chosen for the flame was not the most appropriate. The India Gate, Edward Lutyen’s half-hearted attempt to copy the magnificent French Arc de Triomphe was a war memorial erected by the British in 1921 to commemorate soldiers who died in the First World War and the Third Anglo- Afghan. While most of the names engraved on the granite walls are those of Indian soldiers, a few British officers and soldiers also find their place. The monument does not celebrate a national war and could, at best, be an ad hoc memorial for India’s dead.

Second, the cenotaph was topped by what is known as the “battlefield cross”, consisting of a straight 7.62mm rifle recessed by the barrel, with a steel helmet mounted on its butt. This symbology originated from an American Civil War custom, in which it was used as a temporary marker for the location of a soldier’s body on the battlefield until it was collected for permanent internment. . It was expected that a proper stone monument would be erected in memory of India’s ‘unknown warrior’ but nothing like this happened and we kept the ‘battlefield cross’ for 50 years.

There were also other slights to the soldiers. The government’s inexplicable refusal for many years to pay tribute to fallen soldiers on the anniversaries of the Bangladesh and Kargil wars or Indian Peacekeeping Force Sri Lanka (IPKF) operations for political reasons has caused shock. The crowning glory was the fact that the Sri Lankan government erected an impressive monument to the dead of the IPKF in 2008, when these brave soldiers remained unrecognized in their homeland.

In this context, the 2014 BJP election manifesto, which contained the pledge to “Build a war memorial to recognize and honor the bravery of our soldiers”, gave hope to many veterans. Five years later, the promise has been redeemed with the inauguration of a 40-acre NWM complex in a central location in the capital. This was seen by veterans not only as a belated mea culpa from the nation and its political elite, but also as a morale boost to the one and a half million men and women who bear arms. . The NWM is now a place where citizens pay their respects to our fallen military heroes. Co-locating the Amar Jawan Jyoti with the NWM seems a logical step and should not become a subject of political controversy.

National capitals around the world are filled with memorials of wars and warriors, heroic statues of soldiers, and plazas and avenues named after famous generals, admirals, and battles. In India, statues and street names mainly focus on politicians and occasionally religious figures, business magnates or scholars, soldiers being mostly overlooked. In this context, the display of the statue of Netaji Subhas Bose, an Indian freedom fighter and quasi-military icon, on the occasion of his 125th birthday, at the canopy of India Gate is to greet.

The author is a retired Navy Chief of Staff

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