Updated: January 24, 2022 9:41:37 am
The decision to put out the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate, and honour the supreme sacrifice of India’s war heroes with an eternal flame at the National War Memorial (NWM), has been described as a logical decision for several reasons. For one, the NWM houses the names of all the soldiers who died in wars that took place after independence in 1947. The Amar Jawan Jyoti, which was set up in 1972 under the initiative of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi under the arch of India Gate, seeks to commemorate those who laid down their lives in the 1971 war, but their names are not inscribed on the monument itself. The case has been made that the NWM is where all the official functions are now held to honour the country’s soldiers, and having a flame there would be more apt. These are all good arguments in favour of an eternal flame at the NWM, but still not a convincing enough explanation for why the government will no longer honour Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in wars prior to 1947. This is why the decision has proved divisive, and rankled the sentiments of many. The government’s virtue signalling on the issue, that the “merging of the flames”, as the project is now being described, is a “decolonising” move, has only made the issue more problematic.
It is one thing for a nation to be aware of its colonial past. But quite another for a government to use its ideological predilections to smear everything that went before as “tainted”. In defence of the move, some claim that the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial was inappropriate in its location at India Gate, a Lutyens’ monument and as such a colonial relic. This insults the sacrifice of 15,000 men who laid down their lives as part of the British Army in the two world wars, and whose names are inscribed on the arch, but not at the NWM. These men were no mercenaries as they are now being cast. Moreover, the present day Indian Army is a legatee of the British Indian Army, organised much along the same lines as it was 75 years ago, and cannot turn its back on its own heroes.
The best way out of the present controversy would be to leave the Amar Jawan Jyoti burning at India Gate, along with the one at the NWM. Delhi has space for two flames. Located in a much loved public space, there is no match for India Gate’s openness, which gets the monument more visitors than the gated and more select NWM can. Keeping the flame alive there will ensure that none of India’s war heroes is forgotten
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