Saturday, April 19, 2008

REMEMBERING INDIA'S UNKNOWN SOLDIER

It is rare to find an influential voice from “civil society” writing so soulfully about India’s forgotten and silent soldiers who have stoically stuck to their task despite their increasing marginalization and down gradation since Independence.

Bakha Dutt, who shot into international fame as perhaps India’s first real war correspondent during the Kargil conflict in 1998, has posed many uncomfortable questions to the PLU (People like us) brigade in her column ‘Know the unknown soldier’ in the Hindustan Times of April 19, 2008. We as a nation, says Barkha, have pushed our military into numerous duties that are not part of its job. Yet, she says “a monster called apathy is in serious danger of devouring the future of the Armed Forces”.

Barkha also laments the fact that while British built the imposing India Gate to honour Indian soldiers who died fighting for them, for years India’s military chiefs have been unsuccessfully imploring the government to grant approval for “what should have been a flagship project for any government”. The “shocking stranglehold” is not of red tape, as Barkha feels, but is reflective of a very fundamental and disturbing attitude that the bureaucracy has adopted towards the military since Independence.

It is worth mentioning here that in their unbridled quest to become the real, unquestioned rulers of the country under the pretext of “civilian supremacy”, India’s bureaucrats have successfully stymied even the smallest of efforts which may pull the military out of the anonymity and voiceless position that they have successfully pushed it into; and they are not done yet. Also, having been the most active and dominant ingredients in the systematic destruction of most institutions and organs of the state, they naturally can take no pride whatsoever in allowing perhaps the nation’s last standing institution to mock at their naked collective incompetence and integrity in any manner.

For them, a befitting War Memorial to honour India’s dumb soldiers will not be a symbol of the nation’s pride and gratitude but a ‘victory’ of the very institution that they sneeringly try to belittle and run down at every possible turn, as if it is a foe! Also, in no other country do the police and para military forces(here part of the 'elite' civil services) claim to be equal, even superior, to the military on almost hilarious grounds, including that they too are fighting insurgency just like the military is! Only ignorance at the highest levels will keep people blind to the fact that while their job ends at minor insurgency, the military’s begins from there! The military is not only fighting to salvage the internal mess created by others, it is simultaneously keeping the frontiers secure and training to protect the nation by preventing and, if necessary, fighting the next war that may erupt without warning.

I had written in detail earlier about the need for the country to build a National War Memorial in Lutyen’s Delhi. As Barkha has also mentioned in her column, the proposed design involves construction of retaining walls around the canopy just behind India Gate. This design, notwithstanding the architectural prowess of Charles Correa, is as demeaning as the present concoction of a helmet on top of a rifle under India Gate.

Those of you who watched live the Olympic flame run on Raj Path would have noticed the dramatic backdrop of the canopy and India Gate behind the platform where the VIPs stood. That is approximately where the War Memorial is to come up as per the present design. Get what I am trying to say? Independent India’s War Memorial will be totally dwarfed by the British War Memorial and the canopy built by them for the statue of their king. Those who can, do go to the spot and you will not come back without feeling belittled.



Look at the map above. The only logical place for building a grand War Memorial plus may be a War Museum is where National Stadium (circled in red) stands today, most illogically. A hockey stadium at the end of the possibly the grandest power corridor in the world? Someone has to be nuts. Considering how the nation has been systematically made to forget its soldiers and how the bureaucracy has staged the most silent and effective of coups in the world, without physically overthrowing politicians, it is well within the realm of possibility that Nehru was quietly conned by them into allowing a stadium to be built there so that a War Memorial could not come up subsequently.

One can only hope that Barkha Dutt’s touching ‘ode’ to the unknown soldier touches the ‘Indian’ in the hearts and souls of those who have been blinded by their turf dictated pettiness. And that the rest of us do not” forget all about it with the turn of this page”. It is time the Unknown Soldier who laid down his life for PLUs and politicians and bureaucrats alike gets an honourable name in what is now Independent India’s own corridor of power.
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Readers may also read: A War Memorial for free India's forgotten soldiers