The National War Memorial will now be the only destination for tribute to fallen soldiers
- The Amar Jawan Jyoti at the Indian Gate was put out after 50 years
- A ceremony including a military parade, band, and salute was held
- Soldiers marched carrying the flame from India Gate to new memorial
The Amar Jawan Jyoti or "eternal flame" for soldiers was put out at India Gate in Delhi on Friday, 50 years after it was first lit, and merged with the torch at the National War Memorial in a military ceremony.
The flame was taken from India Gate by a ceremonial guard to the new memorial around 400 metres away in the heart of the capital.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti or flame of the immortal soldier was installed at the India Gate after the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to the creation of independent Bangladesh.
It had burned ever since, fuelled first by cylinders of liquified petroleum gas and later with piped gas, according to AFP.
A soldier lit a single torch from each of the four flaming urns at India Gate before their fuel was cut off.
The National War Memorial, built in 2019, will now be the single point for military ceremonies and tributes to fallen soldiers, the government hopes. In the past three years, most military events have been moved to the new memorial from India Gate.
The end of the iconic flame at India Gate has been received with mixed feelings. Officials say one reason for the historic shift was the "difficulty in maintaining two flames".
But critics, including opposition parties, call it an attempt to erase history and build a brand around monuments built by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
"Some people cannot understand patriotism and sacrifice," tweeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
"Whatever is being done is a national tragedy and an attempt to rewrite history. Merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti with the War Memorial Torch means erasing history. BJP has built the National War Memorial, that does not mean they can extinguish the Amar Jawan Jyoti," said Congress's Manish Tewari.
The government said a "lot of misinformation" was circulating and that the flame at India Gate paid homage only to the martyrs of the 1971 war.
"The flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti is not being extinguished. It is being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial. It was an odd thing to see that the flame at Amar Jawan Jyoti paid homage to the martyrs of the 1971 and other wars but none of their names are present there," said government sources.
The India Gate was built by the British as a memorial to the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in World War-I. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was placed under the India Gate in 1971 when the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government was in power.
The names inscribed on the India Gate are those who fought for the British in World War-I and the Anglo-Afghan War, said the government, describing it as "a symbol of our colonial past".
The names of Indian soldiers who died in wars after Independence, including the 1971 war, are engraved at the National War Memorial, said the government. "It is a true shraddhanjali (tribute) to have the flame paying tribute to martyrs there," said sources.
There has been a deluge of posts on social media and statements from opposition parties, also a section of retired veterans, over the shift.
The National War Memorial, spread over 40 acres, was built at a cost of Rs 176 crore and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
PM Modi also announced that a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed at India Gate as a symbol of India's indebtedness to him.
"After Independence, new construction took place only for a few families from Delhi. We have brought the country out of this narrow thinking and are building new national monuments and adding glory to the existing ones," he said.