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Amar Jawan Jyoti was lit after 1971 war. India Gate’s ‘colonial past’ is why it’s getting ‘merged’

Flame at India Gate was lit in Jan 1972 by Indira Gandhi to commemorate 1971 war. Now, it's getting 'merged' with the one at National War Memorial, which was drawn from it.

A file photo of the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate in New Delhi. | Photo: Commons
A file photo of the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate in New Delhi. | Photo: Commons

New Delhi: The Amar Jawan Jyoti’s 50-year-old history is about to come to an end as the ‘eternal flame’ is set to be merged with the flame at the nearby National War Memorial (NWM) at an afternoon event in the national capital Friday. 

The flame at the India Gate was lit in January 1972 by then-prime minister Indira Gandhi, after the country’s victory in the Bangladesh Liberation War.

On Friday, it will be extinguished once a part of it is carried by a torch to the new location, where another flame has been burning since 2019. That flame was also carried by a torch from the Amar Jawan Jyoti.

The move has already created a row, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling it a matter of “great sadness”.

“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,” he tweeted.

In response, the government sent out a press note, attributed to “sources”, saying that there is a lot of “misinformation” circulating regarding the flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti.  Stressing that the flame isn’t being extinguished, the note asserted that India Gate was “a symbol of our colonial past”.

“It is being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial,” government sources said in the note.

“It was an odd thing to see that the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti paid homage to the martyrs of the 1971 and other wars but none of their names are present there. The names inscribed on the India Gate are of only some martyrs who fought for the British in World War 1 and the Anglo Afghan War and thus is a symbol of our colonial past,” the note said.

“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,” it added. 

Minutes after the note was sent out, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a grand statue of freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed at India Gate. “This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him,” the PM said.

“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,” Modi added.

Also read: Ex-servicemen express mixed reactions on merger of Amar Jawan Jyoti with NWM’s eternal fame

A U-turn from 2019 decision?

The decision to merge the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame appears to be a case of a re-think by the decision-makers. In 2018, it was decided to have two eternal flames — one at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, and the other at a 15-metre-tall obelisk at the National War Memorial.

However, defence sources now say that having two eternal flames, powered by CNG, doesn’t make sense, more so because all ceremonies now take place at the NWM in any case.

The move comes even as the NWM website calls Amar Jawan Jyoti a part of its history, and India Gate as a “must visit monument”.

The India Gate was constructed in 1931 by the erstwhile British empire to commemorate the “martyrs” of India during World War I as well as Third Anglo-Afghan War, the website reads. Out of over 83,000 Indians who laid down their lives, the India Gate bears 13,516 names, etched all over the monument, it adds.

What is Amar Jawan Jyoti? 

In January 1972, an inverted bayonet with a helmet structure, along with the eternal flame, was installed overnight under the arch of India Gate to commemorate India’s victory in the 1971 India-Pakistan war and as the nation’s tribute to its fallen heroes.

Amar Jawan Jyoti is made up of a marble pedestal on which a cenotaph is situated. ‘Amar Jawan’ (immortal soldier) is written in gold on all four sides of the cenotaph. At the top centre is a black L1A1 self-loading rifle, used in the 1971 war, standing on its barrel with a helmet of the ‘unknown soldier’ on top as a symbolic tribute to all killed. The marble pedestal is bound by four urns, one of which holds the continuously burning flame.

There is a tri-service unit which is present at the spot 24×7 to guard it and also to ensure its upkeep.

During ceremonial events, all the four urns are lit. Between 1972 and 2019, every prime minister visited the Amar Jawan Jyoti to pay tribute on Independence Day and Republic Day. All foreign dignitaries and the service chiefs also used to visit the memorial to pay tributes.

However, in 2019, the ceremonies were moved to the National War Memorial.

The NWM history

A requirement to construct a National War Memorial had been under consideration since 1961. But it acquired momentum only in 2014.

During the campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to build a war memorial to honour nearly 26,000 soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice in wars and military operations since Independence.

On 7 October 2015, the Union cabinet approved construction of the National War Memorial and Museum within the national capital’s Lutyens’ zone.

“Taking into consideration the existing ceremonial practices at India Gate and AJJ, area East of the India Gate around the Canopy at ‘C’ Hexagon in New Delhi was found to be the most suited site for the Memorial,” the website for NWM said.

The NWM was initially slated for inauguration in January 2019, but it got delayed and was finally opened up a month later. Since then, it has housed the obelisk for the second eternal flame — which will be the only one from now on.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Extinguishing Amar Jawan Jyoti tantamounts to extinguishing history: Cong