While the Opposition parties criticised the government’s action in no uncertain terms, defence veterans were divided on the move.
NEW DELHI – In an unprecedented move which evoked sharp reactions from different quarters including the Opposition, Amar Jawan Jyoti at iconic India Gate was merged with the flame at the National War Memorial in a military ceremony followed by a parade on Friday. Air Marshal Balabhadra Radha Krishna, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, who presided over the ceremony laid a wreath first at Amar Jawan Jyoti and then at War Memorial.
While the Opposition parties criticised the government’s action in no uncertain terms, defence veterans were divided on the move. Leaders of Opposition parties took strong exception to the move saying extinguishing the “eternal flame” tantamount to erasing history.
Built in 1972 underneath the India Gate arch to commemorate soldiers martyred in the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Amar Jawan Jyoti is a memorial symbolised by an inverted bayonet and soldier’s helmet over it with an eternal flame burning beside it. Tri-services chiefs, as also visiting dignitaries, have been paying respect at the Amar Jawan Jyoti.
Two years ago, its utility was questioned with the emergence of the National War Memorial and a new eternal flame there. The Memorial was built in memory of soldiers and unsung heroes who have laid down their lives defending the nation since Independence.
Situated in the India Gate complex right behind the canopy, the National War Memorial is dedicated to soldiers killed during the Indo-China War in 1962, Indo-Pak Wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Sri Lanka and in the Kargil Conflict in 1999, and also those in the UN peacekeeping missions.
The Congress has attacked the government over extinguishing the eternal flame lit up at Amar Jawan Jyoti and alleged that it is like “extinguishing history and is nothing short of crime”.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the government of “removing history”. The flame at India Gate was lit by his grandmother, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi, in 1972.
Congress MP Manish Tewari on Friday tweeted, “Extinguishing Amar Jawan Jyoti tantamounts to extinguishing history for it commentates sacrifice of those 3,483 brave soldiers who cleaved Pakistan into 02 parts and redrew map of South Asia post partition. It is ironical that in 50th year of liberation of Bangladesh, Government seems to be working overtime to erase India’s finest hour in Post Independent History”.
He said Amar Jawan Jyoti is imbued in the National Consciousness and a billion people have grown up venerating it. “Why can’t India have two eternal flames? Amar Jawan Jyoti & National War Memorial,” he questioned.
Defending the government’s move, Kanchan Gupta, a media adviser to the Information Ministry, said, “The flame at the India Gate is not extinguished, but it is being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial,” Gupta said.
Prime Minister Modi tried to end the dispute by tweeting that a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, an independence leader, will be installed at the India Gate.
The defence veterans were divided over merging of flame from India Gate to National War Memorial. Lieutenant General Satish Dua (Retd) said: “It gives me great satisfaction that the eternal flame of Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate is being merged with the National War Memorial (NWM).”
He further stated: “As someone who had steered the design selection and construction of NWM, I’d been of this view all along …India Gate is a memorial to the fallen heroes of the First World War. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was added in 1972 as we did not have another memorial. National War Memorial pays homage to the fallen Bravehearts after independence.
All homage ceremonies had shifted to NWM already.”
Contrary to it, Air Vice-Marshal Manmohan Bahadur stated that the eternal flame at India Gate is part of India’s psyche. You, I and our generation grew up saluting our brave jawans there. While National War Memorial is great, the memories of Amar Jawan Jyoti are indelible.”
He requested to rescind the decision.
G G Dwivedi, a retired army general and defence analyst, said the controversy over the flame should be put to rest because there can’t be two flames honouring Indian soldiers in close proximity of each other.
— With inputs from agencies