The iconic Amar Jawan Jyoti (AJJ), which was inaugurated after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladeshbyformer Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was removed on Friday, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the construction of a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, restructuring the symbolism around the India Gate.
In the face of protests from the Congress andsome veterans, the Centre said the AAJ was “not extinguished” and only “merged” with the flame at the National War Memorial (NWM). Mr. Modi saidafter independencenew things were constructed only for a “few families” butnowtheywerebuilding monuments of national importance.
At a ceremony presided over by Air Marshal B.R. Krishna, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC), a torch with the flame at the AJJ was carried with full military honours and merged with the NWM flame.
The NWM, inaugurated in February 2019, is located at the ‘C’ Hexagon near India Gate and was built in memory of the soldiers who laid down their lives for the country in the post-Independence period. It has the names of over 26,000 soldiers inscribed on it.
In a change of tradition since the unveiling of the NWM, before the commencement of the Republic Day parade in 2020, Mr. Modi paid homage to the fallen soldiers by laying a wreath at the flame of there, instead of at the AJJ.
Since the inauguration of the NWM, all homage ceremonies are being conducted only there. However, defence officials had stated that the AJJ would be kept burning and used for ceremonial occasions and official visits.
Downplaying the controversy that emerged on the issue, a government source said it was an odd thing to see that the flame at the AJJ paid homage to the martyrs of 1971 and other wars but none of their names were present. “The names of all Indian martyrs from all the wars, including 1971 and wars before and after it, are housed at theNWM. Hence it is a true ‘shraddhanjali’ to have the flame paying tribute to martyrs there,” the source stated.
‘Symbol of colonial past’
India Gate was a “symbol of our colonial past” as it has only some of those who fought for the British in First World War 1 and the Anglo Afghan War, the source noted. “It is ironic that people who did not make aNWMfor seven decades are now making a hue and cry when a permanent and fitting tribute is being made to our martyrs.”
Mr. Modi said on social media. “At a time when the entire nation is marking the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I am glad to share that his grand statue, made of granite, will be installed at India Gate. This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him.”
“Till the grand statue of Netaji Bose is completed, a hologram statue of his would be present at the same place. I will unveil the hologram statue on 23rd January, Netaji’s birth anniversary,” he noted.
The government recently announced that from this year onwards, the Republic Day celebrations will begin from January 23 instead of January 24 and end on January 30, Martyrs Day.
Earlier in the day, speaking at theinauguration of a New Circuit House at Somnath in Gujarat,Mr. Modi said “ourancestors have left so much for usbutthere was a time when it was hesitant to talk aboutour religious cultural identity”.
“After Independence, new things were constructed only for a few families from Delhi, but we are building monuments of national importance,”he stated.Today, the country was leaving behind that narrow thinking and building new places of pride.
India Gate, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was unveiled by Lord Irwin on February 12, 1931. It was built to honour the over 83,000 soldiers of British India who died from 1914 to 1921. It has 13,516 names inscribed all over the monument. The AJJ was set up to pay homage for the soldiers who laid down their lives in the 1971 war. The memorial of the unknown soldier, an inverted bayonet with a helmet structure, along with the AJJ was inaugurated under the arch of India Gate by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on January 26, 1972 to commemorate India’s victory in the 1971 war, in which 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war surrendered and saw the birth of Bangladesh.
Veteran community’s response
Social media was abuzz with responses from the veteran community, with some calling it a “natural thing” while some calling for both flames to be kept alive.
Former Army Chief Gen. Ved Malik said, “A natural thing to do now that the National War Memorial has been established and all ceremonials related to remembrance and honouring soldiers killed in action are being held there.”
Stating that symbols have an intangible value in in nation building, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Manmohan Bahadur (retd.) said the ‘Eternal Flame’ at India Gate was iconic. “A generation grew up around the ‘71 war and the next had goose bumps hearing and seeing the last post on TV and in person. We all will lose a part of our lives,” he said on Twitter.
Tagging Mr. Modiin his tweet, he added, “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. While NWM is great, the memories of AJJ are indelible.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called it amatter of “great sadness” that the immortal flame that used to burn for brave soldiers will be “extinguished” today. “Some people cannot understand patriotism and sacrifice - never mind… We will once again light the Amar Jawan Jyoti for our soldiers!,”he said.
Manoj Kumar Jha,Rajya Sabhamember and national spokespersonof the RJD,said it was neither good politics nor good optics. “It is understandable that the present regime may not have a sense of attachment/belonging with the ‘glories of the past’ but it is beyond comprehension when you resort to such ‘memory erasure’ tactics..,”he stated.