Monday, October 3, 2022

Amar Jawan Jyoti: Flame stokes political war of words

Never before has a national memorial to soldiers or a national icon sparked so much controversy that the decision to extinguish the 50-year-old eternal flames –Amar Jawan Jyoti – at India Gate or installation of Netaji statue at a canopy once occupied by the British ruler, George V.
Earlier, a proposal to install Mahatma Gandhi’s statue there was not considered and then abandoned. The point now is why the statue of national icon like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose be installed there?
As India Gate was a memorial for the 80,000 Indian soldiers who died in wars in Europe, Persia, East Africa and Afghanistan; the Jyoti – four flames – was lit at its arch in 1972 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to commemorate the victory against Pakistan in 1971, creation of Bangladesh and tributes to the soldiers.
The dispute now is sparked by an apparent targeting of the Congress at the height of the elections to UP and four other states. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is the other target whose Netaji tableau for Republic Day parade was rejected and the centre is trying to have the Netaji’s legacy. The government says that in 1972 though flame might have been lit but the names of 3843 martyrs of the 1971 war were not put. The National War Memorial next to India Gate is the first national monument, Air Marshal BR Krishna, chief of integrated defence staff, merging the flames at NWM stresses.
An unseemly situation is developing. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi slamming the government says that flames are for our soldiers and would be lit again. “This is insulting history and memory of the martyrs of Bangladesh war. It is shocking outrage”, says former Congress minister Anand Sharma.
Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan says it’s “unnecessary controversy” and the opposition lacks knowledge of history.
The Congress is accusing the present government of not giving due to leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi even as BJP appropriates freedom fighters like Vallabhbhai Patel, BR Ambedkar Patel and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Beyond politics people in Delhi are feeling that the memorial is to Indian ethos and soldiers of the same army regiments whether in the British Indian army or succeeding Indian army. It is the same army that boasts its heritage since the East India Company days. The Jyoti is supposed to be historic and should have continued. Many Hindu shrines, including Badarinath, have jyoti lit continuously for centuries.
It is being echoed that now it is not the same jyoti at NWM. The nation has to respect, honour and be proud of its heritage. Doing anything new is not a novelty. Let the nation think, consider, discuss and then do. The government says that dignitaries cannot pay tributes at two shrines.
People wonder why suddenly the decision to install the Netaji statue being carved out of black granite in Telangana is being announced without a discussion.
The statue of George V was removed in 1968. In 1991, Former prime minister Chandra Shekhar wanted the canopy demolished and a Gandhi statue there. But since the canopy housed a colonial occupier, who was removed by Indian freedom fighters, a statue of an Indian leader was found inappropriate and insulting. So Gandhi was never given that place.
Netaji has been raised to an iconic figure by RSS executive member Indresh Kumar who initiated an event in Andaman to celebrate Netaji freeing the island and setting up the first national Azad Hind government every December end. Prime Minister Modi has taken it forward. Still many within are not comfortable with Netaji statue at the canopy. Most senior leaders feel he should have an independent place and not a “tainted” one.
But it is more than that. Modi wants to trounce Mamata Banerjee. In 2021, he tried by having 125th birth anniversary celebrations on eve of Bengal elections at Kolkata’s Victorial Memorial, an incongruous British symbol. Mamata had stolen the show. Now the government wants to install the Netaji statue fast to spite on her. Would that help BJP?
Unseemly battles do not behove a great nation. But politics is at new ebb.
(Shivaji Sarkar)