New Delhi, Jan 21 (EFE).- An “eternal flame” in the Indian capital, which has been kept alive for 50 years as a tribute to soldiers killed in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, was extinguished on Friday to be carried to a new memorial monument, triggering widespread criticism.
However, Indian authorities have insisted that the Amar Jawan Jyoti (eternal flame for soldiers), which had been kept alight in a burner near New Delhi’s iconic India Gate monument, was never extinguished, but transferred to a torch and “merged” with another flame at its new location at the National War Memorial.
“It should be clear that no flame is being extinguished, what is happening is that the flame is being carried to the National War Memorial,” where it would be merged with an existing flame, Indian Defense Secretary Ajay Kumar told reporters ahead of the ceremony.
However, the Indian opposition attacked the government over the move.
“It is a matter of regret that the eternal flame that used to burn bright for our brave soldiers will be put off today,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party.
“Some people won’t understand patriotism and sacrifices (for the nation). Never mind, we will light the eternal flame again for our soldiers,” he added.
A leader of the Shiv Sena party from the western state of Maharashtra, Priyanka Chaturvedi, tweeted that she was “sad and anguished” by what she described as another attempt to rewrite the country’s history by the central government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“How many more ideas & monuments we hold dear need to be reworked to make way for a ‘New India’?” she said.
The BJP has been repeatedly accused of trying to erase the history of India’s freedom struggle, closely linked to Congress leaders, including the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which gave three prime ministers to the country and to which Rahul and his mother Sonia Gandhi belong.
Meanwhile the government has insisted that Amar Jawan Jyoti had been installed in 1972, during the reign of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, just in tribute to soldiers fallen during the India-Pakistan war of the previous year, while the National War Memorial inaugurated in 2019, around 400 meters away, paid homage to all soldiers to have been killed in action since India’s independence in 1947.
During the Republic Day celebrations of 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a deliberate gesture by paying tribute in front of the Memorial, breaking the earlier tradition of bowing to the Amar Jawan Jyoti.
The central government has also sought to distance itself from India’s colonial past, as the India Gate – erected in 1931 by the British empire – only carries the names of soldiers of the British Raj killed during World War I and the Anglo-Afghan wars. EFE