National War Memorial Or Amar Jawan Jyoti – Who Deserves Top Spot?

Only one Eternal Flame must represent the spirit, dignity and sacrifice of the armed forces.

Published27 Feb 2019, 12:22 PM IST
3 min read

Prime Minister Narendra Modi – postponed twice to get it closer to elections – inaugurated one hour late – the world’s most original National War Memorial – by consecrating the second Eternal Flame to commemorate India’s martyrs since 1947. The original war memorial is at India Gate, called Amar Jawan Jyoti, which also has an Eternal Flame.

A perfectly solemn and sacred occasion was marred by Modi addressing an ex-servicemen’s rally at the Dhyanchand stadium where, in the audience, were BJP workers who chanted the familiar ‘Modi Modi’ election battle-cry. This was not the done thing. His speech gracelessly politicised the sombre and dignified landmark event, by attacking the Gandhi family and bragging about his government’s achievements in defence and national security.

Credit for Realisation of NVM Should Go to Armed Forces

That the defence budget at 1.5 percent of the GDP is the lowest, leaving literally no funds for modernisation as highlighted by two Standing Committees on Defence headed by BJP’s own stalwarts Maj Gen BC Khanduri (he was removed for a scathing report) and Kalraj Mishra. The reality is that even the OROP which is the crown jewel of the government’s achievements, has a lacunae and is not OROP.

In the 7th Pay Commission, the Services have been short-changed and are perennially battling anomalies of previous pay commissions. The inaugural commemoration could have done without politicising the event, as the armed forces are apolitical, professional, secular, and honour their time-tested customs, traditions and ethos.

Maj Gen Ravi Arora, Editor of ‘Indian Military Review’, has said that there was no need to score political points when the saga of Indian martyrs should have been the focus.

Credit for the realisation of the NWM should go to the armed forces for their dogged determination that NWM will be near India Gate and India Gate alone, and not Dhaula Kuan, or Gurugram or across the Yamuna, as the bureaucrats wanted. It was this that delayed its fruition.

Only One Eternal Flame to Commemorate Martyrs

What was made into a BJP event ought to have been a truly national occasion with President Kovind, the ceremonial supreme commander of the armed forces, and other leaders of the political Opposition invited to the grand opening. That’s how India Gate and the canopy complex blending artistically with the made-and-designed-in-India NWM, made in a record 14 months, should have been celebrated.

NWM and AJJ are now two competing symbols of national pride and sacrifice. Although AJJ was hurriedly constructed at India Gate to commemorate the 1971 war victory, it has become an iconic venue for paying respects to the armed forces. Choosing between two Eternal Flames will not be easy, but the choice has to be made.

The flame at AJJ should be gradually extinguished, (the unknown soldier be kept there) and the pride of place given to NWM, and a pathway constructed from India Gate to the canopy and on to NWM. From Raisina Hill along Rajpath, through India Gate and the Curzon canopy, the national symbol of the Ashoka pillar lions atop the 15.5 m obelisk is visible. The design and alignment are impeccable.

Only one Eternal Flame must represent the spirit, dignity and sacrifice of the armed forces.

‘War’ Memorial – A Misnomer?

There is another contradiction; calling the memorial a “war memorial” is inappropriate, as India has not fought a conventional war since 1971. The 1999 Kargil ‘war’ was only a border conflict. On an average, 100 names are added annually to the Tyag Chakra, one of the four concentric circles surrounded the obelisk.

These deaths of martyrs are in internal security operations, counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism in J&K and the northeast. The Ministry of Home Affairs refers to these operations as conducted in ‘peace time’, and gallantry awards are in the non-war-like category. There is a separate series of awards dedicated to internal security operations. At the same time, it is true that at least in J&K, which is contiguous with Pakistan, a low intensity conflict is being waged in near-warlike conditions. This anomaly also needs to be addressed.

Even so, the armed forces can celebrate their victory over the bureaucracy which is its real adversary in blocking funding for its projects and other enhancements in Warrant of Precedence.

This has prevented the armed forces from blossoming into a fully modernised army capable of deterring Pakistan’s use of non-state actors in the long proxy war. The NWM around India Gate represents the nation’s fitting tribute to its martyrs and their families. It should not be trivialised.

(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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