New Delhi: In August this year, the long-delayed national war memorial for Indian soldiers, first proposed in the 1960s, was cleared by a group of ministers (GoM) mandated to manage the project.
The GoM, headed by Defence Minister AK Antony had agreed to the stand of the armed forces that this memorial must be constructed at India Gate.
On August 17, Defence Minister AK Antony had told reporters: "Most hurdles for the construction of War Memorial has been cleared."
But now, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has opposed the GoM's recommendation to set up the national war memorial at the India Gate complex, saying it will affect the ambience of the area and restrict people's movement at the popular hangout zone.
Press Trust of India reports that in separate letters to Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, she said an alternative site should be found for the memorial.
This is likely to further delay the clearance of the construction of the war memorial by the Union Cabinet.
The armed forces had argued in a well-argued presentation that the layout of the memorial will be organic to the India Gate vista; it will surround the main canopy or chhattri at India Gate, and will list the names of thousands of soldiers who died in the line of duty.
This is what the armed forces had argued:
- Landscaping/sloping up of lawns around 'Chhattri' to create retaining walls for writing names of martyrs - post independence
- No disturbance at all to existing structure of India Gate and 'Chhattri'
- Construction of Shradhanjali Kaksh and auditorium at Princess Park and Armed Forces Museum at Jodhpur Hostel (adjacent but outside the India Gate complex) and connecting these with the war memorial through underground passages
Part of the slides of that presentation are included here.
Construction of the war memorial is now caught in political wrangling.
Unfortunately, we are nation that remembers God and the soldier only when in distress.
Otherwise we specialise in paying lip service.
So politicians, sundry social leaders, even we in the media will occasionally talk about our brave hearts in glowing terms but none of us will strive hard to push for a National War Memorial or a National Martyrs Memorial.
Sixty two years after India became a Republic, we are still paying homage at India Gate.
Built by the British for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Imperial power in World War - I!
For God and the country's sake, wake up. Don't make empty noises about our soldiers and their sacrifices.
At least treat them with dignity and respect in our day-to-day interaction.
Honour them. Otherwise, India will be like Japan or Germany, post-World War - II - big economies without adequate military muscle. Let them know we care for them through the year and not just on two or three ritualistic occasions.
It's important to recall what Kautilya (not Sun Tzu as many of us are fond of quoting) said ages ago about the duty of the King (in this case the Government) towards the soldier: "A country makes a sacred contract with its soldiers. A country that refuses to respect this contract with its armed forces will eventually end up getting forces that will not respect the nation (government)."
Kautilya, better known as Chanakya, also reminded King Chandragupta Maurya: "The day the soldier has to demand his dues, will be a sad day."
Unfortunately, in today's India, that day has already here.