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Merging Flames, Diluting Identity

War, in the popular sense, is a conflict between groups including hostilities of considerable duration and magnitude. Although various dimensions of philosophical, political, economic and sociological aspects are attached to it, yet the one single dimension that is almost synonymous with war is a military war. The military war is fought by the soldiers and in memory of these soldiers, known and unknown, who get killed in the process, the Commonwealth Graves Commission maintains graves all over the world. The 42 metre India Gate is in itself a part of such War Memorial Arch that was built during British era to honour the soldiers who died in the First
World War (1914-1918) and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919). It bore testimony to the courage
and valor of our warriors who carried out their duty according to the regimes whose uniforms they
wore and to whom they owed allegiance. It bears names of 13,516 Indian soldiers out of the total
80,000 Indians who laid their lives in those campaigns.

In 1972, to commemorate soldiers martyred in the Indo-Pak War of 1971, a memorial symbolized by an inverted bayonet and soldier's helmet over it with eternal flame burning beside it – ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’ was built underneath the India Gate arch. It added an important dimension to an already existing memorial, gradually become an organic and intrinsic part of the public memory and waxed the feeling of reverence and respect for the martyrs’. For fifty years in a row every Prime Minister and associated dignitaries have paid tributes and homage at the monument in honour of those “sons of the soil” who have died in various wars, great and small.
However, despite such efforts there always remained a paucity of War Memorial of national character and in 2019 the National War Memorial, spread over 40 acres in the India Gate complex behind the canopy, was built in memory of all soldiers and unsung heroes killed during the Indo-China War in 1962, Indo-Pak Wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Sri-Lanka and in the Kargil Conflict of 1999, besides those killed in the UN peacekeeping missions. It has been aesthetically designed, impressively constructed and has a golden inscription that bears names of 25,942 fallen soldiers across 16 walls with a scope for further
additions after periodic review on time to time basis. The new eternal flame is also positioned at the
bottom of the stone-made obelisk in National War Memorial.

While National War Memorial is great, the memories of Amar Jawan Jyoti are indelible. Apart from the ceremonial functions, the environs around India Gate has also lent to a variety of public expressions of paying tribute, expressing grief (Nirbhaya and other such events) and showing solidarity by lighting candles in the beautiful and accessible open spaces around India Gate.

The Amar Jawan Jyoti, over time has become an inseparable part of our history, is imbued in the
national consciousness and has a symbolic representation in national collective psyche. The billions
of people have grown up venerating it and for nearly five decades has been integral to Republic Day
festivities, mentioned reverentially by commentators on radio and television. The new memorial, on
the other hand, is like a new kid on the horizon that needs time to become a part of familiar and
accessible space.

Extinguishing an eternal flame and merging it with the new one is just semantics and honestly has no rational basis. The country that cannot accommodate the two live flames is an insult to the ‘sons of soil’ who have laid their lives for the honour and dignity of their motherland. Both the flames, one way or the other, portray the reminiscence of the fallen and unsung heroes who have laid down their lives defending the nation since Independence and merging the two is like devaluing the sanctity of both. We need to understand that the symbolism and meaning cannot be dictated or forced but must evolve over time and with due process rather than
getting it done through decree.

Traditions are built over hundreds of years and it takes just a few minutes to destroy it — be it a Masjid, Church, or Temple, or the extinguishing of a flame that was sacred for all that it symbolized in the fifty years of its existence. There would not have been any harm had both the flames been continued at their respective places, with the old flame depicting love, emotion and sacrifice while the new flame delineating enthusiasm, patriotism and a valour to protect the borders of country and countrymen.

Dr. Pawan Suri
Director & Chief Cardiologist
Global Hospital, Jalandhar

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