The government’s decision to merge the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate with the flame at the National War Memorial triggered a political furore Friday with the Congress attacking the government, saying it amounts to insulting history and memory of soldiers who died for the country.
Government sources, however, said the Amar Jawan Jyoti is not being extinguished and is being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial where names of “all Indian martyrs” in all wars, including 1971, are inscribed.
While most Opposition parties did not react, the Congress slammed the move but nuanced its position after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a grand statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose would come up at India Gate.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti was established in 1972 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to mark India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.
“It is a matter of great sadness that the immortal flame that used to burn for our 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!” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a Twitter post.
Hours after Prime Minister Modi announced the decision to install Netaji’s statue at the India Gate, the Congress said there cannot be any conflict or competition between the icons of the freedom movement and the fallen war heroes as both have made immeasurable contributions to the country.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the lustre of the Amar Jawan Jyoti will adorn the statue of Netaji.
“Only those who want self-fulfilment and trigger controversies will look for one or the other alternatives… We condemn this sponsored and artificial controversy,” he said.
Several Congress leaders hit out at the government but many Opposition parties remained silent.
“One cannot even imagine India Gate without the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame… They (BJP leaders) have no valour, sense of sacrifice and respect for our soldiers,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha.
Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said the BJP government’s mandate was to build the nation and not to rewrite history.
“Extinguishing the Amar Jawan Jyoti erected in 1972 in the memory of our soldiers who died in the Bangladesh war is shocking and a national outrage. This is insulting history and the memory of the martyrs. The War Memorial has its place but Amar Jawan Jyoti has sanctity and is the nation’s pride,” he said.
The government countered the Congress claim. “The flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti shall continue at the National War Memorial where all the names of our fallen soldiers/martyrs are etched for eternity,” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Government sources said it was “ironic that people who did not make a National War Memorial for seven decades” were now “making a hue and cry when a permanent and fitting tribute is being made to our martyrs”.
“The flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti is not being extinguished. It is being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial. It was an odd thing to see that the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti paid homage to the martyrs of the 1971 wars and other wars but none of their names are present there,” government sources said.
“The names inscribed on the India Gate are of only some martyrs who fought for the British in World War I and the Anglo-Afghan War and thus is a symbol of our colonial past. The names of all Indian martyrs from all the wars, including 1971 and wars before and after it, are housed at the National War Memorial. Hence, it is a true shraddhanjali to have the flame paying tribute to martyrs there,” the sources said.
While Congress MP Manish Tewari said “whatever is being done is a national tragedy and an attempt to rewrite history,” RJD leader Manoj Kumar Jha said “it is a sad and unfortunate decision”.
“I know you (BJP) have made no contribution to India’s glorious past but that does not certainly mean that you will extinguish the flame which has been burning for 50 years,” Jha said.
BSP MP Kunwar Danish Ali said extinguishing the eternal flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti is unacceptable. He said the “unnecessary move” is “an attempt to erase the glorious memories of independent India” with which the “ruling parivar” has had no connection.