January 24, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we find out what the controversy surrounding the Amar Jawan Jyoti is all about. We also look at the plight of INA veterans in Haryana, and the concerns of teachers in Telangana, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The Amar Jawan Jyoti Controversy
In another unprecedented turn, 2022 has got the country erupting over rather emotional arguments about an eternal flame. No, not the late 80s smash hit from American pop band, The Bangles. Though, the fight over that Eternal Flame has played out many times. Mostly about whether we should still be listening to it on repeat or not. No sir, this eternal flame fight is a little more heavy – several unknown martyrs type heavy.
After 50 years of continuous burning, the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti under the India Gate was extinguished and merged on 21 January, 2022. The government thought it more prudent to shift the fire to the one burning at the National War Memorial just a few hundred metres from there. While some veterans agree with the opposition about this being an attempt to erase history, others see it as a reclamation of our past. Either way, the angst and history on both sides need to be looked into.
From 1914 to 1919, majorly the Great War and the Third Afghan War, Great Britain would use jawans from their colonies, like India, to fight their wars. Thus, the All-India War Memorial, now known as India Gate, was commissioned by the British to commemorate all the fallen soldiers of British India. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and inaugurated in 1931, the walls of the monument feature names of more than 13,000 soldiers who perished fighting wars that weren’t even our own.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti wasn’t added till 1972 by our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The aim was to create an honourable tomb for our unknown soldiers who died for the motherland in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Initially, the installation included a shallow bowl atop the India Gate that was to be lit during ceremonies. This was apart from the four burners on the Amar Jawan Jyoti monument that, on regular days, only one remained lit. During special occasions, however, all four burners were ignited. As for the little bowl on top, it has remained unlit for a while now.
In 2019, the National War Memorial, only 400 metres away from the India Gate, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While talks for a proper war memorial for Independent India has been a part of official discussions since 1961, the BJP included it in its election promises back in 2014. Now, an Amar Jawan Jyoti has been burning at the National War Memorial as well. According to the current administration, having two flames that stand for the same thing doesn’t do much. Thus, the sudden call for a merger.
It simply makes sense
From a practical sense, government sources have stated that merging the two eternal flames is simply better for upkeep. Maintaining two different flames adds an unnecessary burden on staff and merging them makes things more efficient. But other than that, having the National War Memorial house the eternal flame for fallen soldiers adds a level of gravitas that has been missing for a while now. How? Well, for starters, the new memorial actually has the names of fallen Indian soldiers. Not just from the major wars, including the 1971 war, but after that too. The original Amar Jawan Jyoti mentions none.
The India Gate as well – based on France’s Arc de Triomphe, erected for those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars – was built specifically for the soldiers of British India. The 13,300 names inscribed on its walls include a couple of British officers and soldiers as well. While their valour must be remembered, ignoring the fact that these men were simply used as cannon fodder by a tight-fisted foreign oppressor does little for this sovereign nation. Having that domineer over our Amar Jawan Jyoti monument seems awfully counterproductive.
Even the iconography used in the Amar Jawan Jyoti monument isn’t our own. The sculpture atop the cenotaph represents what’s popularly known as the “battlefield cross”. It’s an upright 7.62mm rifle, on the butt of which a steel war helmet is mounted. This was used in the American Civil War to mark the location of a fallen soldier’s body on battlefields. A more suitable monument was supposed to be erected to honour our “unknown soldiers” yet, no change was made.
Now, a lot has happened since then. Indian soldiers have found themselves, time and time again, on the frontlines, whether at our borders or as peacekeeping forces in a foreign land. And the political sphere, while momentarily sympathetic, more often than not, tries to stay away from digging up such memories. Moving the flames to the National War Memorial at least seeks to address that. In the words of retired Air Vice Marshall and historian Arjun Subramaniam, “The symbolism… must be seen as part of the process of remembering and forgetting at the same time.”
Rewriting history for all the wrong reasons
When the National War Memorial was opened to the public in 2019, several military officials went on record to assure us of the Amar Jawan Jyoti’s location. The then Chief of Integrated Defence Staff Lt Gen P S Rajeshwar specifically said that the current flame will continue to burn as “we have inherited that flame.” Simply calling it a colonial relic disregards the complex history of the Indian Army. Our oldest battalions were partly raised by the East India Company in 1757 and partly by the erstwhile state forces that fought for Mughal emperors. And those state forces later went on to fight in the World Wars.
Besides, the purpose of war memorials in the 21st century has changed. Unless in an overly nationalistic country, these monuments are less about celebrating wars than reflecting on the losses caused by conflict. India lost more than 1,60,000 soldiers in both World Wars buried in over 60 countries. The inclusion of the Amar Jawan Jyoti to the monument that remembers our men in the World Wars adds to that ethos – a monument to our lost soldiers. This is also why the armed forces’ war memorial demands always circle the India Gate. Clearly, a band of brothers stick together.
From a purely political point of view, this abrupt move has been tagged as another attempt made by the BJP to overwrite our nuanced past with the pristine Hindutva narrative. You see, for various reasons, including the public’s attachment to the iconic status of the India Gate, the National War Memorial didn’t quite get the response the administration was hoping for. And shifting a monument that serves as a source of mass reflection might just give the more formal war memorial the boost they want. Turns out, demolishing our past is especially necessary to create an illusion of complete stasis till the entry of the BJP.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti flames with the National War Memorial flames only makes sense.
b) Merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti flames with the National War Memorial flames was highly insensitive and unnecessary.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
No political price yet
For the Left:
Subhas Chandra Bose wasn’t ‘anti-Savarkar’. Here’s how it’s more nuanced than you thought
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Republic Day boycott (Manipur) – The United Naga Council (UNC) recently announced that the Nagas of Manipur will be boycotting the Republic Day celebrations on January 26. This comes as a part of its non-cooperation movement against the Indian Government over the delaying of the “Framework Agreement”. The UNC also stated that they and the Naga people are in full support of the political talks going on between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).
Why it matters: The “Framework Agreement” (FA) that was mutually agreed on and signed in 2015 is yet to be implemented. And according to the UNC, this is an affront to the political rights of the Naga people. The Nagas never saw themselves as a part of British India. So, when 1947 came around, the Naga National Council (NNC) declared independence for Nagaland. The Centre enacted AFSPA and about 100+ rounds of talks later, the FA was signed. But the NSCN-IM and the Centre had different understandings on the sovereignty of Nagaland. This has been an impasse in the peace process for a while now.
The lost army (Haryana) – According to Shribhagwan Phogat, the son of an Indian National Army (INA) soldier, the government has records of over 250 INA veterans. Around 4 years ago, Phogat sent the information to the state government in hopes of them receiving benefits and allowances for their contributions to the freedom struggle. He’s even met with the state BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankar and state Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala about the same. All to no avail, the matter keeps getting stuck in red tape.
Why it matters: The INA was formed back in 1942 in Singapore by Captain Mohan Singh, through the patronage of the Imperial Japanese Army. This was done to secure India’s independence. Soon, disagreements between Captain Singh and the Japanese Army over the autonomy of the INA led to its disbandment. But in 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was personally invited by the Japanese to form the second INA. When Japan lost in the second World War, the British captured INA members. Several veterans still live unrecognised in India today.
World Bank to the rescue (West Bengal) – The World Bank has approved a loan of ₹1,000 crores to the state to facilitate faster and better access to social services. As per their statement, this loan is supposed to go towards improving certain public services. Special attention will be given to elderly support and support for the differently-abled, medical aid through telemedicine and the financial inclusion of citizens through digitisation.
Why it matters: The state government currently runs over 400 social schemes for the less privileged in West Bengal. Last month, the World Bank also approved another $135 million loan to the state for improving their electricity distribution and grid infrastructure. A report from the World Bank even states that West Bengal can play a major role in facilitating regional power trade as it already does so with Bangladesh. It also said that the state’s rapid economic growth is directly linked to its growing electricity demand.
Prohibition strikes again! (Gujarat) – AAP leader Isudan Gadhvi claims that the alcohol found in his blood after being arrested for protesting at the BJP headquarters is a part of a larger political conspiracy. The permissible amount of alcohol concentration in the state is 0.05 w/v. A forensic report that he consented to showed that his blood sample had 0.0545 w/v. Gadhvi says that the protest happened in front of 500 people and the chances of anyone showing up inebriated in that environment is very low.
Why it matters: After 70 years of the prohibition law in Gujarat, over 7 petitions have been submitted to the High Court challenging it. The state police, by law, is empowered to enter any place at any time if they have any reason to believe that an individual is intoxicated on the premises. This is a clear invasion of privacy and thus, against the fundamental right to privacy. Something the High Court admitted itself in August 2021. Gujarat’s prohibition law is also classist in nature as permits are given to NRIs. It also provides permits after assessing one’s tax returns which clearly goes against the right to equality.
English as a medium (Telangana) – On January 17, the state government announced that all state-run schools will offer instructions in English from the 2022-23 academic year onwards. While this was generally welcomed by the public, some points of concern were raised by the teachers, administrators and intellectuals. As the guidelines for this change haven’t been published yet, administrators are hoping that new teachers with proper English skills would be recruited. And, the existing teachers will be given ample training before returning to the classroom.
Why it matters: As of now, about 35,000 posts for teachers are yet to be filled in the state and recruitment in general, seems to be a problem in Telangana. When a similar scheme was implemented in 2008 with 625 schools, no new teachers were recruited. This caused the whole scheme to fail. This isn’t even the first state to do so. Andhra Pradesh tried to make English medium education compulsory but in April 2020, their High Court struck it down. The government has now challenged this order in the Supreme Court.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹4.4 lakh crore – According to a report from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, around 445 infrastructure projects have overrun their expenditure amounts. The total amount of these cost overruns has reached ₹4.4 lakh crore. The report also mentions that another 557 projects have been delayed in 2021.