In memory of our real icons

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Monday, 28 July 2014 | KG Suresh | in Oped


Symbols such as a National War Memorial and the National Military Memorial would immensely contribute towards that direction. As the famous quote aptly puts it, “Poor is the nation that has no heroes….Shameful is the one that, having them…forgets”

With the allocation of Rs100 crore for the proposed National War Memorial in the Union Budget 2014, the BJP-led NDA Government has fulfilled a long-pending demand of the Armed Forces to honour the soldiers who laid down their lives in defence of the nation since 1947.

New Delhi’s India Gate, where successive Prime Ministers have been paying tributes to the nation’s martyrs on Republic Day every year, was built by the alien rulers to honour the British and Indian officers and men who were killed fighting for the Union Jack during World War I and the Afghan campaign.

However, it remains a matter of shame, not just for the Armed Forces but also the nation as a whole, that even 66 years after independence, the country does not have a National War Memorial to remember the martyrs of the 1947-1948 Jammu & Kashmir operations, the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars and the 1999 Kargil conflict. In fact, the National War Memorial was first proposed way back in the 1960s.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attacked the then Congress-led UPA Government for dragging its feet on the National War Memorial, saying, “There is no country in the world where there is not a war memorial. India has fought several wars, thousands of our soldiers have been martyred. Should we not remember them? Should not there be a war memorial?”

The announcement during the Budget presentation by Union Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, about the proposed memorial in Princess Park near India Gate supplemented by a war museum, is in effect a materialisation of the Prime Minister’s vision. Interestingly, apart from  Armed Forces personnel, one of the key activists who campaigned extensively for the National War Memorial not only in Delhi but also in different State capitals has been entrepreneur and Rajya Sabha Member Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Much like the industrialist and former Congress MP Naveen Jindal, who vociferously advocated the cause of the Tricolour, Mr Chandrasekhar, the two-time independent MP from Bangalore, has relentlessly pursued the demand for a memorial ever since he set foot in Parliament in 2006 through numerous letters and parliamentary questions to the Defence Minister. He has also highlighted the matter outside Parliament and even approached Chief Ministers to build memorials in their respective States.

In 2009, Mr Chandrasekhar convinced the Karnataka State Government to build the National Military Memorial in Bangalore, India’s very first war memorial post-independence.  As the chairman of the National Military Memorial Committee, he has ensured that when inaugurated the memorial in Bangalore will be the country’s first monument to honour soldiers who laid down their lives in major conflicts that took place post independence

Spread over 7.5 acres, the first memorial for our bravehearts in the heart of Bangalore boasts several unique features. The memorial park showcases the Veeragallu — Kannada for stone — recollecting the contribution of the bold and the brave. This is an imposing and traditional obelisk symbolising the strength, courage as well as conviction of martyred soldiers. The height of the monolithic granite structure is 75 feet and it weighs about 700 tonnes.

The National Military Memorial park will also have the tallest flag mast in India at 65 metres (around 213 feet). The flag mast will adorn the country’s largest national flag measuring 48×78 feet. The names of more than 22,000 soldiers who laid down their lives fighting for the nation will be inscribed in plaques on the memorial’s walls.

In addition to this, models of weapon systems will be displayed at the 10,000 sq ft underground motivation hall in the park. Busts of war heroes such as Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, Field Marshal KM Cariappa and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan will be displayed inside the hall. Apart from being a symbol of thanksgiving, both for the citizens and the kin of the martyrs, such a memorial will also serve as beacons of inspiration for the country’s younger generation.

As Mr Chandrasekhar’s told the youth at the at the flag hoisting ceremony at the Bangalore memorial, the memorial should become an inspiration — not just about the brave people for whom this is being built, but in a larger way, the ideals and values that the Armed Forces represent — values of national service, commitment to the idea of a strong, progressive and united India, values of ‘nation first’, or, as the Armed Forces say, ‘Seva Parmo Dharma’.

“This rekindling of our national spirit is even more important today, as our nation struggles with divisions on lines of caste, religious and region. I strongly believe that our Armed Forces are the last of the few professional, secular institutions that are still driven by a sense of nationalism and duty and live and die by the simple idea of Nation First — values that unfortunately have disappeared, or are disappearing, from almost all other areas of public service”, said Mr Chandrasekhar.

Most of today’s youth, except those associated with some political or ideological outfits, do not relate to the idols the earlier generations admired and adored. Cricketers, film stars, pop singers and even ramp models have replaced the freedom-fighters and heroes of yore. These new age celebrities are the idols, icons and heroes of Generation X, but can they be role models?

They may inspire an aspiring model, actor or cricketer, but can they exhort one to walk that extra mile, work that extra hour, extend that helping hand and become the voice of the voiceless, to think beyond oneself and the family, for society and the country at large?

We are a young nation, with the largest youth population in the world. With religious fanatics, Maoists and drug-peddlers trying to wean away the youth in large numbers towards their nefarious activities, it becomes important, nay essential, that our youth have as role models contemporary figures whom they can emulate or at least draw inspiration from, so as to play a constructive role, both in their own and the nation’s lives.

While symbols such as a National War Memorial and the National Military Memorial will immensely contribute in inculcating a sense of purpose and patriotism among our youth and children, it is also important that we create a modern mythology and folklore around our post-independence military heroes, in our educational curricula. If the stories of these war heroes enter our collective consciousness as a people, it is bound to inspire, uplift and revive the time honoured values of patriotism — of duty, honour and sacrifice — values that any nation needs for its survival and growth.

Nationalism is not about jingoism. It is about rising above the narrow confines of caste, creed, language, region, religion, and even ideology. Communism dreams of a borderless state, yet no other country is as passionate about its unique identity and territory as the Chinese, to the extent that they are today seen as being irredentist, whether it is on Arunachal Pradesh or the Senkaku Islands.

What India needs is positive nationalism that will enable her in overcoming divisions and scale greater heights, in terms of prosperity for her people and the well being of all nations. Setting up symbols such as a National War Memorial and the National Military Memorial are important steps in this direction. As the famous quote aptly puts it, “Poor is the nation that has no heroes….Shameful is the one that, having them…forgets.”

(The writer is Senior Fellow and Editor with the Vivekananda International Foundation)


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