A few days ago, before the 73rd republic day of India, The eternal Amar Jawan Jyoti flame was put out by officials. However, It was clarified by the Government that the flame was not to be extinguished but "merged" with the flame at the National War Memorial some 400 metres away.
In order to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame was inaugurated at India Gate back in 1972 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. However, the flame had been burning uninterrupted since then for five decades until it was merged with the flame at the National War Memorial.
Why Did It Happen?
The sole rationale behind merging the two Flames was given by the officials saying that the maintenance of two separate flames is complex and that merging would keep it more accessible to maintain.
The act, sparked flames of controversy between the ruling government and the opposition along with a split between veterans.
As per Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd), the above-cited reason doesn't stand as the "only cause" of the merging; instead there cannot be two war memorials. He further added that earlier, many demanded a National War Memorial while now it stands tall, there is controversy on the old war memorial which is a legacy of the British. However, having two separate flames has never been an issue.
Gen GD Bakshi’s “Mercenary” Remarks
However, another controversy on the issue got fueled by a remark made on the fallen Indian soldiers of the British era when they were described as "Mercenaries" by Gen GD Bakshi (Retd). This statement led to a heated debate in the veteran community who didn't appreciate the remarks.
Several comments came in from many veterans as a backlash to Gen. Bakshi's remarks.
Brigadier Govind Ilangovan (Retd) said that probably GDB (Gen. GD Bakshi) is acquainted with a wrong understanding of the word "Mercenary". He added that those Indian officers who used to fight under the British were a part of the regular army of the then ruling government and post independence, the same army merged into Indian Army and the Pakistan Army, so ethically they cannot be termed as mercenaries.
On the other hand, Group Capt Johnson Chacko (Retd) said that those concerned with making money at the expense of ethics can be primarily called mercenaries but with regards to the Indian soldiers, this was never a culture even though there were many at the higher levels who could be bribed by the invaders.
Major Gen CD Sawant (Retd) also said that Mercenary is a very silly remark that one can make.
That said, Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd) said that GDB is probably unfamiliar with what read the inscription on India Gate reads:
"To the dead of the Indian Armies who fell and are honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and Far East and in Sacred Memory also of those whose names are here recorded and who fell in India on the North West Frontier and during the Third Afghan War"
He said that for all the valiant Indian soldiers, the India Gate itself stands as a War Memorial where these soldiers are fairly honoured by other nations but unfortunately these fallen few are addressed as mercenaries by a retired two star of Indian Army (GDB).
It was further added by him that a public apology would be in order if it was an accidental utterance, else it shall be a clear intent that points towards a deliberate act for probable and possible political gain.
Brigadier Govind Ilangovan (Retd) commented further on this by mentioning about the State Forces of the time having mercenaries from Arabia, France, Portugal, British Isles, Turkey and even Afghanistan while even within Mughal and Maratha empire, Goans, Jats, Rajputs, Balochies, Portuguese and Afghans were serving.
On a note, during a virtual debate, Lt Col Anil Duhoon (veteran) strongly responded to Bakshi's statement by saying that he is ashamed of hearing Bakshi call the soldiers of pre independence period "Mercenary". On this General Bakshi in turn questioned the above-cited veteran that how would he like a monument to Pak soldiers on Indian soil.
Another veteran, Brigadier Sarvesh Dangwal (Retd) said that in order to win the argument, better selection of words could have been done by the GDB while he could have been more sensitive to the feelings of people and old soldiers which is less rude sounding to make a point.
Apart from this he made a point by stating that all those names inscribed on the India Gate War Memorial belonged to the British Indian Army were brave soldiers from amongst the 90,000 who were killed in action during the first World War and the third Anglo Afghan War who have been referred to as Mercenaries by GDB. He should have used an appropriate word which does not discredit, demean and desecrate the ultimate sacrifice in the call of duty by these soldiers, who were not Mercenaries.
On the other hand, Col HS Gill (Retd) said that an apology from GD Bakshi would not be enough. His misconduct might have been heard by the Pakistanis as well and such an act shall allow them to make use of "the word" for the Indian martyrs who laid their lives in Jammu and Kashmir, would GDB like to hear that?.