Moving 50-year-old Indian war memorial sparks controversy

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian government on Friday moved a memorial flame lit 50 years ago to honor Indian soldiers killed in a 1971 war with Pakistan to a new national war memorial opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi almost three years ago.

The move sparked strong protests from opposition leaders, who said extinguishing the “eternal flame” was tantamount to erasing history.

A soldier lit a torch from the flame at its location at India Gate and carried it to the National War Memorial, less than half a kilometer (a third of a mile) away. The original flame then went out.

The government said the flame had been moved as all tribute ceremonies would now take place at the National War Memorial.

Previously, the annual National Day celebrations on Republic Day on January 26 began with the Prime Minister paying respects to soldiers at the India Gate memorial.

Rahul Gandhi, a top leader of the opposition Congress party, accused the government of “suppressing history”. The flame at India Gate was lit by his grandmother, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1972.

Kanchan Gupta. a media adviser to the Ministry of Information, defended the government’s decision.

“The flame at India Gate is not extinguished, but it is merging with the flame at the National War Memorial,” Gupta said.

The original flame was part of the India Gate complex of memorial arches, built during British colonial rule to honor soldiers who died in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919. The monument bears the names of soldiers inscribed on its surface.

GG Dwivedi, a retired army general and defense analyst, said the flame controversy should be closed as there cannot be two flames honoring Indian soldiers near each other .

Prime Minister Modi attempted to end the dispute by tweeting that a statue of pro-independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose would be installed at India Gate.

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