Several ex-servicemen infuriated with Centre’s decision to extinguish flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti

All the current defence chiefs have laid wreaths at Amar Jawan Jyoti until 2019 and what is even more worrisome is that there were hardly any discussion before taking this decision

Several ex-servicemen infuriated with Centre’s decision to extinguish flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti

Ashlin Mathew

Several retired defence personnel have expressed displeasure at the Centre’s decision to extinguish the flame at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate after 50 years and allegedly ‘merged’ with the torch at the National War Memorial. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was added to the war memorial at India Gate in 1972.

Slamming the government’s move, the former Indian Navy chief (Retired) Admiral L Ramdas underscored that flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti will be extinguished and not merged. The Amar Jawan Jyoti and the India Gate symbolised the tombs of the unidentified soldiers. India Gate has names of thousands of soldiers who were killed in World War I and it also commemorates those who died in both the Afghan Wars.

“A large number of them were Indian soldiers. Their memories must also be revered and honoured regardless of whether they were a colonial legacy or not. They were Indian soldiers who laid down their lives for the many wars and there were many whose names are unknown. You need the tomb of unknown soldiers,” explained Ramdas. The National War Memorial, which is just 500 metres away from India Gate, only has the names of all those who laid down their lives post independence, but does not include the names of those who died in wars before.

The former Indian Navy chief believes it was a good idea to create a war memorial but there he reiterated that both the flames should be left burning. “It is laughable to say the country cannot afford to burn two flames. I have never heard anything so preposterous,” he added. This is an attempt to forget history.

India Gate was built by the British India government as a war memorial to honour about 84,000 Indian soldiers who died in the First World War (1914-1918) and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919). Amar Jawan Jyoti was added to it by the Indira Gandhi government in 1972 in memory of the 3,843 soldiers who lost their lives during the India-Pakistan War that led to the formation of Bangladesh as a separate country. The National War memorial has names of 25,942 soldiers.

All the current defence chiefs have laid wreaths at Amar Jawan Jyoti until 2019 and what is even more worrisome is that there were hardly any discussion before taking this decision. “None of the chiefs were involved. One person was taken to extinguish the flame. It was almost done in stealth,” remarked Ramdas. This is a commentary on the country which seems to be bent on destroying traditions, conventions, which have all been important to men and women in uniform and their families.

Former Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur requested the Prime Minister on Twitter to rescind the decision. “Sir, the eternal flame at India Gate is part of India's psyche. You, I and our generation grew up saluting our brave jawans there,” he tweeted. While National War Memorial is great, the memories of Amar Jawan Jyoti are indelible, Bahadur noted.

Former Colonel Rajendra Bhaduri said the Amar Jawan Jyoti is sacred and need not be extinguished. “India Gate has names of Indian soldiers who died in wars. It is immaterial who constructed it,” Bhaduri said on Twitter.

Former Lieutenant Colonel Anil Duhoon commented that the Amar Jawan Jyoti was too sacred to be touched or relocated. “Why can't they have two of them? Can't understand their functioning,” Duhoon added.

A former general, who did not want to be named, said militaries look at their histories from their beginning. “If we do not want to talk of our history from colonial times, then why talk of feudal times. The history of the Indian Army begins in 1776, when the first unit was raised in Kolkata and then Madras Presidency. The order of precedence of regiments in the Indian Army is based on that. Logically, all those killed since then should find a place somewhere, but we don’t. The government should have made India Gate an extension of the National War Memorial instead of shutting down the flame. It can remain as a separate entity. Then the government can create walls to remember all those killed in action.”

The Indian Army has fought in the Boxer Rebellion in China, but the names of the soldiers who died in that have not been mentioned. The names of those who fought at the north-west frontier or in between the two world wars have not been mentioned. “There should be a discussion over from when on do we need to remember names. The government can say ‘they do not have names’, but that is only an excuse because records are available in the British archives,” added the general.

Army veteran Major-General SG Vombatkere (Retired) said he was worried about the Prime Minister’s statement that a flame of obligations and duties should be lit in the hearts of every citizen to ensure the country reached new heights. “The Prime Minister’s statement that we prioritized our rights and forgot our duties is dangerous. We should also worry about the central vista project especially when the government claims there is a shortage of money for other projects,” said Vombatkere when asked about the extinguishing of the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti.

However, Former Lieutenant General Satish Dua expressed “great satisfaction” on the so-called merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti with the NWM's eternal flame. "As someone who had steered the design selection and construction of the NWM, I had been of this view all along that India Gate is a memorial to the fallen heroes of First World War,” said Dua as we did not have another memorial, he mentioned.

Former Lieutenant General Kamal Jit Singh said on Friday that after the NWM's inauguration, it is logical to unify both the flames. “Rationalise multiple memorials in penny packets,” he said on Twitter.

With PTI inputs

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Published: 21 Jan 2022, 4:55 PM