At long last, 72 years after Independence and many wars/ conflicts/ peacekeeping deployments, out of which the fourth war waged by Pakistan continues, India finally got its Rashtriya Samar Smarak, the National War Memorial (NWM) and at a befitting location. On 25 February 2019, a day before Indian Air Force’s brilliant and accurate strike on a terrorists’ camp in Balakot, Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the NMW, finally providing Indian public with the means to know about India’s post- Independence history-still not taught in schools-and to inculcate national pride.
And for the first time, the remembrance and tribute- paying ceremony for India’s Armed Forces martyrs on Vijay Divas (Victory Day), 16 December 2019, was conducted in an appropriate form at Rashtriya Samar Smarak. It was on 16 December 1971, when India’s Armed Forces created new records in military history. Indian Army, assisted by the Mukti Bahini, ended Pakistan’s third war against India within thirteen days by surrounding erstwhile East Pakistan, making 93,000 Pakistan army personnel surrender with laying down of arms, thereby helping in the liberation of the brutally suppressed Bengali people there and also the creation of a new nation, Bangladesh.
Following India’s victory in this War, a small eternal flame with an upturned rifle and a helmet placed on its butt was made in front of the West face of India Gate, as a tribute to India’s Unknown Soldier, naming it Amar Jawan Jyoti. And it was at this apology for a war memorial that Indian leaders, military commanders and visiting heads of state laid wreaths and paid their tributes.
The famous majestic India Gate was built by the British as a memorial to 74,187 Indian soldiers who were killed in various battles of World War I (WW1) and as many of their names as possible are etched on all the walls of this memorial. The other WW I war memorial is Teen Murti, literally meaning three statues, dedicated to the Indian Cavalry for its valiant role and incidentally, its last one as horsed cavalry; by World War II (WW II) horsed cavalry had become mechanised.
While about 1.5 million Indian soldiers participated in WW I (1914-18), in WW II (1939-45), 2.5 million Indian Armed Forces personnel took part and over 87,000 of them were killed in action. Following a mutiny by some Indian Navy sailors shortly after WW II, the British felt compelled to leave India in a hurry. So, a memorial to the sacrifices of Indians in WW II never got built.
Till 2014, the Indian government under the Congress party for 56 of 67 years never made any move towards building a national war memorial and often stonewalled the idea whenever the matter came up. After the surgical strikes against Pakistani terrorists in 2016, ironically, some senior Congress leaders and the Congress leaning bandwagon of leftists/pseudo-intellectuals/pseudo secularists/human rights activists politicised and even ridiculed patriotism and national pride. Some of these Congress leaders even questioned the authenticity of the surgical strikes and also criticised the Army’s actions in Kashmir Valley.
Sometime after it assumed charge in 2014, BJP announced its plan of making a national war memorial and got going. Spread over 40 acres of land behind the ‘chhatri’(canopy), about 100 metres behind India Gate, the Memorial, with its wall flushed with the ground, has four concentric circles designed as a Chakravyuh, an ancient Indian war formation and a central obelisk, at the bottom of which burns the eternal flame representing the Amar Jawan (immortal soldier). The concentric circles are called Amar Chakra(Circle of Immortality), Veerta Chakra(Circle of Bravery), Tyag Chakra(Circle of Sacrifice) and Rakshak Chakra(Circle of Protection). The names of 25,942 fatal battle casualties have been inscribed on 16 walls of the Memorial.
The daily footfall on weekdays is 4000 to 6000 and on weekends and holidays, it is 10000 or more. Since its inauguration, every evening five minutes before sounding the Retreat, a next of kin of a battle casualty lays a wreath at the Memorial as a tribute, witnessed by hundreds of spectators.
A National War Museum will be constructed in the adjoining Princess Park area north of India Gate.