War memorials don't belong to govts, they should be treasured for future generations. Why not have several flames across the country?

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War memorials don't belong to govts, they should be treasured for future generations. Why not have several flames across the country?
Amar Jawan Jyoti was merged with the eternal flames at National War Memorial on Friday.

The controversy over Amar Jawan Jyoti and an Indian War Memorial vs a British one brings to mind a visit to Turkey in 2008. The Turkish connection on the subject might sound absurd, but it’s an appropriate analogy nevertheless.

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During my visit to the country, I travelled to see the battlefields of Gallipoli, where thousands of brave men fought in 1915 during the First World War and are buried in the soil there. The memorials here are not just dedicated to Turkish soldiers but also to the enemy — troops from allied forces that include Australians, New Zealanders and Indians.

The idea of Indian soldiers being honoured for their valour while fighting in a foreign land, which, too, as part of the inimical forces, appealed to me.

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I had a lump in my throat as the guide, who was also a history teacher, said: “We also respect our enemy, who died fighting here against our military.”

My chest swelled with pride when he turned to us– my wife and me and said: “We have a couple from India,” mentioning the heroics of Indian troops part of the British Indian Army.

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That sense of pride might be considered misplaced today, with many arguing, but those were Indian soldiers fighting for the British.

Cut to January 20, 2022 — the government makes a sudden announcement on merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti or the eternal flame with another flame at the National War Memorial inaugurated in 2019. The Amar Jawan Jyoti or the eternal flame, along with the inverted bayonet and a helmet in memory of the fallen soldier, has been a symbol of sacrifice for 50 years underneath India Gate.

Getting rid of the colonial legacy or tinkering with history?

Many are arguing India Gate reeks a colonial hangover. Why should India Gate, built by the British, be a symbol of Indian soldiers killed in action?

Those arguing this feel it’s perfect for the Amar Jawan Jyoti to be extinguished at India Gate and instead merged with just one eternal flame at the new War Memorial, a true representation of Indian bravery and honour.

The walls of the War Memorial have names of all those who have made the supreme sacrifice in post-independent India — the first of its kind of monument that truly honours Indian bravehearts.

Here’s the problem with this argument.

Are those who died fighting for the British Army less Indians, or was their honour and bravery less accomplished? If that was the case, the Indian Army would have shunned the practice of maintaining legacies of the past, many of which date back to colonial India.

India Gate was built by the British in memory of those who fought and lost their lives in World War I and the Anglo-Afghan Wars. This included Indians, whose tales are part of legends. The recent Akshay Kumar starrer was one Bollywood representation of how troops of the Sikh regiment took on Afghan tribes against all odds and held on to a critical fort at the Afghan border.

This reminds me of my recent introduction to the Pagals (mad men) of the Indian Army during one of my assignments to the Line of Control. The 3 Rajput got this name from Gen KM Carriappa, the First Field Marshal of the Indian Army, who was also appointed the first commander-in-chief of the Indian army in post-independent India.

On July 25, 1942, during World War-II, a young British Captain, part of a battalion, led his men in the Battle of Deir-el-Shein in Egypt, charging the enemy’s advancing tanks fighting with bayonets of their rifles and stopped.

They were christened Pagals by Cariappa later when he visited the battalion and heard about the crazy heroics of the paltan fighting for the British Indian Army. That name is a badge of honour for the battalion that has a history of over 200 years.

There are several such legends as part of the Indian Army’s history that even the current generations are proud of and remain a matter of rich heritage and inspiration for the paltans.

Not to forget, the likes of Field Marshal Carriappa and Field Marshal Manekshaw, one of the most popular Indian army generals in India’s history credited with demolishing Pakistan in the 1971 war, were both commissioned into the British Indian Army. Field Marshal Manekshaw also served during the Second World War. Field Marshal Carriapa was the first Indian to do a training course at Imperial Defence College, Camberly, UK.

It would be blasphemous to think of these men among many others as lesser contributors to India’s military just because of their past association with the British.

If they can be one of the most honourable men in the Indian military, there certainly shouldn’t be a problem saluting those who died fighting for the British Indian Army.

End Delhi’s monopoly

For the last three years, the two flames at India Gate and the National War Memorial co-existed. At the time of the inauguration of the war memorial in 2019, it was said, Amar Jawan Jyoti will continue and is an inseparable part of history. So,what’s changed now and why can’t they continue to co-exist?

The government has not given any explanation for this, except that it’s natural to have one Amar Jawan Jyoti since there is a National War Memorial now. However, a strange narrative has slipped in that Amar Jawan Jyoti was a temporary arrangement, something being said by military veterans even though the government has not made any assertions to this effect.

The Narendra Modi government needs to be credited with the idea of having a war memorial for post-independent India. Instead of diminishing the legacy, they should enhance it. The National War Memorial perhaps has missed out one Indian aspect, the contribution of Indian National Army or the Azad Hind Fauj.

In the middle of the controversy, it was announced that a statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose would come up under a canopy where King George V, stood tall till 1968, when his statue was removed.

Maybe its time to add the names of those who lost their lives fighting for the Indian National Army.

There can be war memorials and flames all over the country recognising every Indian sacrifice, irrespective of the battle they fought.

The government should end the monopolisation of Delhi to showcase war memorials. We can have them in any form across the country, just like the gigantic flags that have come up. Why not have an eternal flame in every town and village of a braveheart who made the supreme sacrifice?

If Turkey did it for the enemy, there is certainly no shame in doing it for our own.

MEA happy to recognise Indian contribution to British Army

In fact, the Ministry of External Affairs lists out MEA | Photo Features : Photos list all war memorials across the world, including several in India, in memory of Indian soldiers who fought during World War I between 1914-1918. This means the government of the day certainly feels the contributions of Indian soldiers must be lauded, but allows the narrative to take another twist when it comes to controversies like these. Otherwise, why would union minister Hardeep Puri, himself a former diplomate, while speaking to reporters say, “You would rather have it under the tutelage of a colonial… this thing or have it under your own this thing… (reference to India Gate as a colonial structure and National War Memorial being Indian).

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