A Major Landmark, Delhi’s War Memorial Still Has a Long Way to Go

The NWM is a feather in the Modi government’s defence and security cap, adding dignity and poignancy to India Gate.

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A Major Landmark, Delhi’s War Memorial Still Has a Long Way to Go

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On Monday, 25 February, a 60-year old dream was consummated, after long bureaucratic battles between the Army and government ministries for real estate to construct the country’s National War Memorial (NWM) near the canopy (which once contained the bust of Lord Curzon) adjacent to the C Hexagon near India Gate. The National War Memorial was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

The soil and terrain which environmentalists and objectors of NWM feared would be disfigured have in fact been aesthetically sanctified with the India Gate complex blending old with new and maintaining Lutyens circular architectural grand design.

The fulcrum of the NWM is a 15m high obelisk with the eternal flame and crowned with the Ashoka Lions is dug down. Standing on Raisina Hill, the national emblem of Ashoka Lions will be visible through India Gate and Curzon canopy, so perfect is the alignment and landscaping.


Chronicling India’s Brave

Four concentric circles called Amar, Veerata, Tyag and Suraksha chakras, with the obelisk of the Tyag Chakra containing 25,927 names of martyrs – Army: 25,539; Navy: 239; IAF 164 – since 1947.

NWM is unique for three reasons.

  • Individual tablets of martyrs are listed according to seniority of regiments/squadrons; tablets are on granite stone, embedded in sandstone.
  • An underground water harvesting system of 14 lakh litre capacity to keep the sandstone structures cool and green.
  • A digital system to identify location of a martyr’s tablet.

Six murals carved in stone by Shri Ram Sutar (maker of the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat) inspired from paintings by Lt Col Arul Raj depicting battles on land, air and sea embellish the base of the memorial. The battles are Gangasagar, Longewala, Tithwal, Rizangla, and Operations Meghdoot and Trident. War memorials abroad have none of these special features and, generally, names are etched on walls.

With our armed forces suffering nearly 100 fatalities in internal security operations annually – and almost all from the army – space has been catered for new tablets to be installed over the next 30 years, assuming there is no war. Another circle can be built to accommodate martyrs for another 60 years, though one hopes that the casualty rate drops sharply once India gets ahold of itself.


Where Aesthetics, Landscaping and Visual Splendour Stand Out

In an adjoining circular lawn are bronze busts of 21 Param Vir Chakras, stylishly installed on both sides of the walkway. These busts, the creative genius of Ram Sutar again, have citations of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) winners in Hindi and English.

Here again, aesthetics, landscaping and visual splendour stand out besides the spell-binding narratives of individual battles fought by these braves which are guaranteed to inspire, motivate and even make one’s hair stand on end. A stone mural adorns this gallantry gallery called Param Yodha Sthal.

Initially 16 acres of land was allotted for the project which has expanded to 40 acres, with numerous water fountains to allow the several sandstone structures to breathe and keep the area cool and green. 697 trees have been planted in sync with the lay of the land.

An underground passage is to be constructed to link the memorial with the proposed National War Museum to be built in the adjoining Princes Park in the next phase. NWM has cost Rs 176 crore from a provision of Rs 500 crore for both the memorial and museum. 428 companies including several foreign ones competed for the tender but it was the Indian We Be Design Company, Hyderabad led by Yogesh Chandrahasan which bagged the project.


In Awe, Yet not Without a Flaw

The NWM is a feather in the Modi government’s defence and security cap, adding dignity and poignancy to India Gate. Still observers of the outstanding but belated achievement will ask some questions and make suggestions.

How will the iconic Amar Jawan Jyoti which came up hurriedly in 1972 to commemorate the 1971 war victory be integrated with NWM? India Gate was made to commemorate 85,000 soldiers killed in World War I and the Afghanistan campaign.

Many names are missing from the India Gate wall. How will this gap be plugged? There is not even a passing mention of the 95,000 Indian braves who fell for the Empire in World War II. No mention also of Victoria Cross (equal to PVC) winners.

Busts of two Field Marshals Sam Manekshaw and KM Cariappa, and Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, should find a place with Sam Bahadur who gave India its first military victory in 1,000 years becoming the centrepiece. These ideas should come up from the veterans when they meet Modi at the Dhyan Chand Stadium on 25 February before the NWM is inaugurated at 1700 hrs by him.

We may be in for a big surprise. Some kindred soul at the last minute has suggested that NWM be renamed Rashtriya Sainik Smarak. The acronym will kill two birds with one stone during election time. But from this veteran, it is a big NO for name change.

(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founding member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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