Of martyrs and war memorials

Recently the BJP prime ministerial designate, Narendra Modi, declared that the nation lacked a war memorial and a large number of people have pointed out that this is untrue. The statement made by Modi was politically loaded in a politically surcharged environment, thus it drew a lot of reactions.

The fact of the matter is that the nation lacks a national war memorial and those located at Rezang La, Zoji La, Saichen, and a host of other places are local in nature and commemorate that particular action. Is there a subtle difference between war memorials that abound in the nation and a national war memorial? This certainly needs some clarification and the nation needs to be apprised about the same. To this list can be added two here in Dehradoon, one at Indian Military Academy and another one at Rashtriya Indian Military Academy, both of which honour their respective alumni. The Chandigarh war memorial has names of 8459 martyrs from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Chandigarh, and was constructed with assistance from both Chandigarh administration and the Indian Express. The war memorials at Sela, Kargil, and a host of other locations are managed by the local military authorities, to commemorate a local action or roll of honour that are specific to their cause.

Of particular significance is the one in Pune managed by Southern Command, as it is the only one in South Asia where citizens too have contributed and the hut of remembrance at National Defence Academy for those who were the alumni of that academy. There are others at Bangalore, Darjeeling, Mhow and Patna to name a few none of them is a national war memorial. These war memorials spread across the country are a source of inspiration for the youth and in respective academies act as moral boosters best stated in the hut of remembrance. ‘Merciful God, we earnestly pray, that those of us who are yet to be tested; and shaped in the forge of the battle, may when the call comes, be capable of the same devotion, courage and determination, in the service of our Country, as those of our comrades - at - arms, whom we remember today, in this Hut of Remembrance’.

Besides the war memorials, Commonwealth Graves Commission also does yeomanry service. The show piece is of course the Kohima memorial in memory of the second division and has the most haunting beautiful lines’ when you go home tell them of us, and say for your tomorrow we gave our today’. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission which internationally looks after 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars, in 153 countries and 23,000 locations. We in India lack such an organisation.

The India Gate at Delhi was built by the British to honour Indian soldiers, who made the supreme sacrifice, during  the First World War (1914-1918), and has names of 70, 000 Indian soldiers who died in action. It also has the names of more than 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the northwestern frontier in the Afghanwar of 1919. The Amar Jawan Jyoti – tomb of the immortal soldier was placed under India Gate in 1971 after the 1971 Indo-Pak war by prime minister Indira Gandhi as a tribute to the soldiers who had died in the war. This black marble structure has four fires perpetually lit at its four corners. The rifle atop the structure is capped by an army helmet, used during World War II. It is at best a stop gap measure not a national war memorial although the nation pays homage every Republic Day.

So what exactly fits the bill of being a national war memorial is the moot point? In olden times, war memorials were built to glorify victory but in modern times a warmemorial is a building, monument, statue or any edifice not to glorify war, but to honour those who have died. It is a place of pride for the nation, where each and every martyrs name will be etched; it will ceremonially honoured, worshiped in a military sense and regularly paid homage too. It will showcase Indian military tradition over the centuries, and be a place of pride for the younger generation to emulate. It is a place of honour for those who martyred for the country, sending a signal that your sacrifice will not go in vain and the nation acknowledging the sacrifices of the flower of its youth and your memory remains eternal. It is also, a symbol of hope and meaning to those loved ones who have untimely lost their kith and kin smiling knowing that my dearest ones memory are alive and their sacrifices’ gratefully acknowledged by the nation.

It is place of pride and signifies the martial tradition of the nation, handed down from generation to generation, reminding all of human national will and the power of sacrifice of its citizenry.

The exercise to have a national war memorial was in news about two years ago. Although we have a defence minister for 10 years now the nation still lacks a warmemorial, thus the importance of the same can be seen. It is quite a sad fact that 65 years after Independence, India still does not have a national war memorial, for those who laid down their lives fighting for an Independent India.
Does military victory have a political colour? The answer is yes, in India. The Congress gives weightage to Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) which is commemorated every16 December in India as it marks its military victory over Pakistan in 1971. The BJP gives credence to Kargil Vijay Diwas, named after the success of Operation Vijay 26 July 1999. The Kargil war was India’s first television war fought for more than 60 days, in the most inhospitable terrain; it was brought home by a string of reporters.

The soldier wonders why all the fuss over military victory, thus the national war memorial too is becoming a political issue; rise above pettiness is the eternal message.

The author is a retired brigadier
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