INDIA: The 50-year old Amar Jawan Jyoti- the emblematic ‘eternal flame’- was merged with the National War Memorial ceremoniously in New Delhi on January 21 amid significant political controversy and mixed reactions from military veterans.
The historical significance of Amar Jawan Jyoti
The Amar Jawan Jyoti was constructed as a memorial to honour the Indian soldiers martyred in the Indo-Pak war of 1971, also known as the Bangladesh Liberation War as it had led to the creation of Bangladesh following India’s victory.
The memorial was launched by the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi on January 26, 1972.
It had an inverted L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle capped by the helmet of the Unknown Soldier with the honorary flame burning inside it. This was placed on a marble platform with ‘Amar Jawan’ inscribed in gold on all four sides of the platform. The flame was maintained burning perennially without being extinguished until the merger.
The India Gate was built by the British in 1931 to commemorate around 90,000 Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army who were martyred during the first world war. Since the Amar Jawan Jyoti was a also memorial for the martyred Indian soldiers, it was established close to the India Gate.
What is the National War Memorial?
The NWM was built by the present Central government and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 25, 2019, to honour all the Indian soldiers who fought bravely and laid down their lives in the post-independence battles & combats. This was one-of-its-kind as it was built to commemorate them all at the national level.
The merger of AJJ and NWM
Several reasons were being cited by officials. As per an NDTV report citing sources, the decision of the merger was taken following the complaints by officials regarding the difficulty in keeping two flames alive. Some officials have also questioned the existence of two flames, arguing that if the National War Memorial honours all the martyrs of Independent India, why a flame should be lit separately.
The political controversy
After the political controversy broke out, government sources have said that the eternal flame will not be extinguished but merged with the National War Memorial. Sources said that although the Amar Jawan Jyoti commemorated the martyred soldiers of the 1971 war, it did not mention their names. Additionally, India Gate is a “symbol of our colonial past”, sources said.
Reactions from Opposition
Several prominent leaders of the opposition fiercely criticised the merger.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned the decision, asking if this ‘government had no respect for democratic tradition’.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called it a matter of great sadness and assured that they (Congress) will re-extinguish the eternal flame.
Mixed reactions from defence veterans
Retired Air Vice-Marshal Manohar Bahadur tweeted calling the Amar Jawan Jyoti a part of India’s psyche and requested for a repeal of the decision.
On the other hand, some army veterans such as Lt Gen Satish Dua retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, praised the move.