Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2019 > Situating the National War Memorial

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 16 New Delhi April 6, 2019

Situating the National War Memorial

Sunday 7 April 2019

by Arup Kumar Sen

A scholar of Museum Studies, Andrew Whitmarsh, made some seminal observations regarding war memorials: “...museums of war act as memorials to those who were killed or served in war...War museums have often been accused of sanitising or glamorising war...War is a controversial subject, not only because of the death, destruction and suffering involved. Memory of war often forms part of a nation’s self-image. Taking a critical attitude towards past wars may therefore provoke accusations of being unpatriotic.”(Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, November, 2001)

The recent inauguration ceremony of the National War Memorial (NWM) in India has led to controversy. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, inaugurated the NWM adjoining the iconic India Gate Complex in New Delhi on February 25, 2019. The memorial is intended to pay tribute to soldiers who laid down their lives defending the nation during India-China War in 1962, Indo-Pak wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, Indian Peace Keeping Force Operations in Sri Lanka and in the Kargil conflict of 1999. Reportedly, the Rs 176-crore project is spread over a vast expanse of 40 acres at the India Gate Complex. While speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the memorial, Narendra Modi said: “For seven decades since Independence, the country didn’t have a memorial for our fallen heroes.” He attacked the Congress for allegedly compro-mising the defence forces, and claimed: “Major defence decisions in the national interest, which were earlier ignored or halted, are now being taken without any delay.” (See The Wire, February 26, 2019) Many Opposition leaders, particularly those belonging to the Congress, found Modi’s speech to be a blatantly political one.

The timing of the inauguration is also important. To put it in the words of India Today, “...National War Memorial opening comes at a time when the country is mourning its 40 CRPF jawans who were martyred in the devastating Pulwama terror attack.” ( It should be mentioned in this connection that the Indian Air Force bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot a day after the inauguration of the war memorial.

The BJP Government led by Narendra Modi is branding its critics as anti-national. Now, with the negative turn in India’s relations with Pakistan, “a critical attitude towards past wars may therefore provoke accusations of being unpatriotic”. In the election season, it is quite likely that the use of the “anti-national” category by the ruling party will be more pronounced in characterising its opponents.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted