The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi is a great communicator and establishes an instant and impactful connect with the masses when he addresses them from the hustings or a public platform.
In one such public congregation in Rudrapur, Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand on 28 Mar 2019, while lauding the contribution of the soldiers belonging to the State and exhorting their deeds of valour, courage and commitment to safeguard the territorial integrity and internal security of the Nation; expressed a desire to establish a Sainya Dham in Uttarakhand in recognition of their services.
By doing this, the State would henceforth be known and called as Panch Dhams instead of the existing Char Dhams, by which it is popularly known. The Char Dhams of Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are places of Hindu Worship and are renowned for all practising Hindus around the World.
Hence, to construct a Sainya Dham, which by its very etymology construes a place of religious worship and faith is an exception to the rule and is against the grain of military Traditions and Customs.
At the face of it, it is a pronouncement which is arbitrary and lacks application of mind on a matter, which is the exclusive preserve of the military alone. The military has a rich and effulgent history of commemorating its bravehearts, who have sacrificed their lives in battles and wars down the centuries for their country, by building War Memorials.
But, in a parliamentary democracy of India where the Prime Minister has assumed a cult personality and is the poster boy of ethnonationalism, a politically loaded pronouncement with religious overtones resonates amongst the masses with joy and overt enthusiasm.
However, it desecrates and assails military history and its traditions. Structures, systems, alignments, organisations, personalities, men, women and weapons can change; but traditions, which can neither be bought nor sold nor created, is a solid rock amidst shifting sands. A journey down the memory lane of our history recalls events, which led to the construction of War Memorials in memory of those soldiers who have fallen in battle.
In order to mollify public opinion in the face of mounting nationalist sentiments, the Indian Soldiers Board, which had as its primary objective, the welfare of enlisted and discharged soldiers, as well as the dependants of those who had died, was tasked to erect a number of memorials “in order to commemorate the achievements of the Indian Army and to pay tribute to the memory of the brave men who have fallen.”
The Board proposed to undertake this by erecting an “Imperial memorial” in Delhi, and by setting up other memorials to commemorate the exploits of Indian troops in battle, in each of the five principal theatres of war in which they had served. In addition, war commemoration tablets were to be presented to all villages in India that had supplied a large number of fighting men for the army.
No such tablets were proposed for villages that had supplied men for the numerous non-combatant labour corps. In discharging its “imperial” obligations, the Board worked in conjunction with the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) which undertook the design and construction of the All India War Memorial, now universally known as “India Gate”, in the heart of New Delhi.
Designed by the architect of New Delhi, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), the monument was unveiled by the Viceroy, Lord Irwin (1881-1959), on 12 February 1931. Located in the heart of the new imperial capital along the processional axis of King’s Way (now Raj Path), the Memorial has provided a focus for civic commemoration ever since. The addition of the Amar Jawan Jyoti (eternal flame of the immortal soldier) following the Indo-Pak conflict in December 1971 has imbued the site with new meaning.
Lutyens, who was also responsible for designing over ninety war memorials including the iconic Cenotaph in Whitehall and the evocative Thiepval memorial on the Somme, conveyed the same simple yet solemn grandeur in the towering 138-foot high memorial arch.
India Gate commemorates the over 74,000 personnel from undivided India who died in the First World War as well as those that fell in operations on or beyond the North-West Frontier and in the Third Afghan War in 1919. However, only 13,516 names of the latter are inscribed on it. A short distance to the east of the arch, Lutyens raised the King George V Memorial in 1936. The architectural historian Philip Davies described these monuments as:
Examples of architecture and public sculpture used for political ends, the Arch and the Memorial were intended to be emotive unifying symbols; one a testimony to the blood ties which linked Britain and India in perpetual fraternity, the other investing the concept of Imperial dominion with the mystical qualities of kingship.
Today the radiating rays of the Imperial suns carved beneath the cornice of the Arch demonstrate that the stones which commemorate power are a more durable medium than power itself. Indeed from under Lutyens's great Moghul-Renaissance canopy the statue of George V has been removed, and it frames only thin air.
Uttarakhand, a State which was carved out of Western UP and born on 09 Nov 2000, is to go to elections in Feb/March 2022. Therefore, the Prime Minister's populist pronouncement to appeal to the 12 % of the State's electorate, comprising military personnel was premised more upon political opportunism and expediency than sound judgement.
The incumbent BJP Government, which has changed three Chief Ministers in four years and six months and is on a ventilator provided to it by the indulgent grace of the Prime Minister; bent over backwards to accommodate his pronouncement as a fiat, even though it lacked military propriety.
In pursuance of this desire of the PM, a Foundation Stone was laid by the ex-CM of Uttarakhand, Shri Trivendra Singh Rawat in Purukul Village of Dehradun, on 23 Jan 2021. Earlier, the site selected by the Mayor of Dehradun for this Dham was in a trenching ground (garbage collection centre) on Sahastradhara Road, Dehradun.
It was owing to the efforts of a handful of ex-servicemen and social activists that, the location of the Dham was changed to its present location in Purukul. To extract optimum electoral mileage from this absurdity and an unprecedented decision to construct a Dham in recognition of the sacrifices of the bravehearts of Uttarakhand, a Shaheed (Martyrs) Samman Yatra has been planned.
This, under the stewardship of the State Sainik Kalyan Mantri and which envisages to tour the State and collect soil from the forecourt of the homes of about 1700 martyrs and bring it to Purukul Village and mix it with the soil on which the Dham is to be constructed. This would consecrate and make holy the site of the Sainya Dham.
This Is truly the theatre of the absurd in full swing in Uttarakhand and it is rather disheartening that the ex-servicemen community of the State prefers to remain silent and indifferent on an issue of such critical importance to the military and its traditions and customs.
It was from a sense of extreme frustration and angst that, I reached out to friends from the brotherhood of arms and appealed to their better sense to come together in a resolute protest against the construction of this intended Dham in its present location.
I wrote thus:
"Respected All, Do you think that there will be a divine intervention to prevent the unthinkable from happening and which is the construction of the Sainya Dham in Purukul village; a place which is not the most suitable for such a sacred memorial which is akin to our Char Dhams. It fails common sense and a practical understanding of what a Dham is. It’s our tragedy that we are ruled by those who are bereft of good sense and abilities to discharge onerous responsibilities required of them.
Their only qualification is their ineptitude and ability to qualify as rabble-rousers in a politically charged environment. It is a humongous tragedy that we ESM are not coming out in overt support of the resistance being demonstrated by the Sainya Dham Sangharsh Samiti for the construction of a Dham, which is driven by an ulterior motive undergirded by political expediency. It is here that I will quote from Plato "If you do not take interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools".
I do hope that the wrath of the Gods will prevent this travesty, which is being hurled upon the Armed Forces community by cocking a snook at us collectively, by a mountebank Mantri.
Shame on all of us (I included) for not standing up for the dignity and reverence, which is due to our Martyrs. A 'Sainya Dham' is what the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and the incumbent Mountain Division in Sela has erected for the hero of Fourth Garhwal Rifles (Nuranang), Rfn Jaswant Singh - A Temple and a place of worship to seek blessings from. Jaswant resides there as its presiding deity and is known as Baba Jaswant on the basis of the legend, which surrounds his gallantry and bravery in the famous battle of Nuranang on 17th Nov 1962.
A Dham immortalises our Martyrs and transforms them into inspirational martial divine beings, who bless and inspire generations of those who are touched by their grace and spiritual munificence.
Purukul, is not where this Dham must come up when we have the majestic Himalayas as our glorious heritage in Garhwal and Kumaon. Jai hind.
Brigadier Sarvesh Dutt Dangwal
This post was written with a sense of abject helplessness and as a desperate act of foreclosing Purukul Village as the site of choice for the Dham. From initially contesting and resisting the construction of a Sainya Dham to commemorate the martyrs of Uttarakhand, I changed course in the face of the Government's executive might to steamroll my principled stand in the matter.
It was predicated upon an individual's impotence against the might of an intransigent and haughty executive. Therefore, I traded for the next best option in the matter when I wrote on social media in an ardent appeal to our Forces community.
My sense of commitment to the cause for which I initially threw in my hat to fight the established wrong of the PM's pronouncement and its subsequent follow up by the State Government of Uttarakhand, induced me to delve deeper into the subject and seek absolute clarity on what is being pedalled as a de novo concept, offered to the annals of military History by our Prime Minister.
My research into the subject revealed more and more about it and the complete arbitrariness with which the PM had violated and transgressed our military traditions and customs. This emboldened me to revisit and review the matter and revert to my initial objection to the PM's pronouncement of dedicating a Dham in recognition of the gallantry, bravery and courage of those soldiers belonging to Uttarakhand who had laid down their lives in the service of the Country and Nation.
Accordingly, I have now written to the President of India and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of India  to prevent this grave wrong from being committed on a sensitive matter of military Traditions and Customs, which are inviolable and sacrosanct.
A copy of this has also been sent to the CDS, Gen Bipin Rawat  to offer just, balanced and cogent advise to the competent authority to revoke and modify this bizarre act, which will otherwise stultify our traditions and customs which are built on the blood and toil of our comrades in arms over centuries of warfighting.
I have also sought recourse from the wisdom of the judiciary, by writing to the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, Nainital  and requesting that my letter may please be treated as a Public Interest Litigation ( PIL ) and an interim order to STAY the construction of a Sainya Dham be given in the interest of justice.
I also beseech the support of all those, to do what they can, who are mortified by this unfounded pronouncement of the PM and its follow up by the State Government of Uttarakhand. It mocks, desecrates and discredits our military values and culture. Uttarakhand has hit the lowest point of its history by politicising the sacrifices of its martyrs by disrespecting the very traditions, which nurtures and cherishes their gallantry.
- The National Archives (henceforth TNA). F. No. WO 32/5878: Erection of Memorials in France to the Indian units.
- Now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (henceforth CWGC).
- Official: The Registers of the Names inscribed on the Delhi and Shillong Memorials, India, vol. 41, London 1931, p. 5.
- Letter to the Rashtrapati dated 08 Nov 2021
- Letter to CDS dated 09 Nov 2021
- Letter to CJ, Uttarakhand HC, Nainital dated 09 Nov 2021.
About the Author
Brig. Sarvesh D Dangwal, VSM commissioned from IMA in 1971. Born into battle with 4 Garhwal Rifles, saw action in Jhangar, Naushera Sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Served in APTC for 25 years, was Comdt AIPT & DDGPT before retirement in 2008. Was instrumental in revision of entire system of PT and Testing of Army implemented in 1992 and obtaining till date. An avid reader and writer who freelances on diverse issues that impact civil society and especially those which concern the people of the hills of Uttarakhand.