The National Military Memorial near Infantry Road in Bengaluru could have been the first of its kind in the country. But sadly, owing to a lethargic Congress leadership, things did not move beyond a point. Now, the B S Yediyurappa government is trying to complete what was left neglected.
As one drives past the road that leads to the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru, it is difficult to miss the mammoth flag that flutters high, hoisted on the largest flag pole in the country.
It is just across the road from the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium. But if one were to go see the place where it stands, the tale would turn from one of pride to one of shame and plain disrespect.
It was to be India’s first memorial but 11 years since its foundation stone was laid, it still awaits completion.
Last year (2019), as the country was celebrating its 70th Republic Day, a bunch of children of army veterans, who called themselves #FaujiKids, gathered at what was intended to be the country’s first military memorial.
They had gathered to say a gentle prayer, for their loud demands for the completion of an ode to the slain soldiers had gone unheard for the longest time.
This was the umpteenth attempt to get those in charge to #CompleteNMM.
In the words of one of the FaujiKids, Priya Chetty Rajagopal, “May be, if not the government, at least god would hear our prayers and ensure the martyrs get the respect which they have earned by paying a price with their lives”.
This was a campaign by children and families of those who had served in the armed forces to rally for and ensure the National Military Memorial located in the heart of Bengaluru finally sees the light of day.
They were praying that a mammoth monolith ‘Veeragallu’ (herostone) whose ferrying from the quarry to the memorial site was said to be the last hurdle for the completion of the memorial, sees the light of day.
But one year later, the task is still pending.
11 long years, legal battles that involved the apex court, online campaigns by children and families of veterans, umpteen media reports and a relentless pursuit by those who care for our martyrs is yet to bear fruit as what was to be the country’s first post Independence war memorial, is still pending completion.
The foundation stone for the National Military Memorial was laid on 10 February 2009. Spearheaded by Member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrashekhar, this was to be one of its kind and Bengaluru was to have the pride of hosting the country’s first civilian military memorial.
But unfortunately, Bengaluru’s dream was quashed as the one in Delhi became a reality in just four years and was completed last year.
“The NMM made good progress till 2013 — then under the Congress government led by CM Siddaramaiah, for six years, there was no progress and the NMM was allowed to go to pot. It is only after B S Yediyurappa became CM, has the NMM project restarted with full energy,” explains Chandrashekar, who mooted the idea to the then chief minister B S Yediyurappa.
After a decade, things have come a full circle. But the journey sure could have been different.
National Military Memorial – The journey
The National Military Memorial was christened ‘Veera Bhoomi’ as the CM paid respects to the martyrs this year. But a walk around the beautifully landscaped ‘Veera Bhoomi’ made me wonder if this is how we treat the ‘Veers’ who died for this ‘Bhoomi’.
The Veeragallu with scaffolding around it is still being chiselled at tugged at on both sides by the BDA, which is the authority overseeing the work and the sculptor who is seeking a greater remuneration to complete it.
A walk two years ago would make one wonder if this is truly a site of national pride, for the tanks were rusting, garden unkempt, the entry to the hall blocked, moss growing on the displayed artefacts, instances of people scribbling on the plaques that had names of soldiers engraved among other embarrassments.
A large rusted globe-like structure at the entrance of the motivation centre, was envisioned as a space for ‘inspiring, motivating and informing the minds of the youth and other visitors’.
But nameless busts of Field Marshall Gen Cariappa, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, and Padma Vibhushan IAF Marshall Arjan Singh, a half-informed caretaker who said many students visited the place regularly but had no record to show, for there were none kept, the sorry state of a hardly furbished shelf of books that is supposed to be a ‘library’ was anything but motivating.
The thought that had gone into its design had surely not manifested.
For it was envisioned as a place of quiet remembrance and homage — “It is a primordial landscape gesture to create a ritual path within the forest,” explains Soumitro Ghosh, of Mathew and Ghosh Architects who designed the memorial.
It was curated as a ceremonial path in a forest clearance, where one could silently take a walk through time and history and meet the martyrs and know their tales and say a quiet prayer for those who died for our freedom.
“With the intent of giving back a forested city, the built form of the memorial hall was designed to disappear into the ground like a bunker. The structure below the ground meanders between the roots of the trees. There are 324 trees at the site, and only four eucalyptus trees were removed to accommodate the structure,” explains Ghosh.
One can clearly see that what was conceived and what currently exists, in terms of the desired effect, have little in common.
“The experience created through the architecture of the ritual path is hardly supported by the content on display. And much of the present display has been only followed in part to the design detail articulated for display by us,” says Ghosh, highlighting the various issues that have hampered the physical exhibition design.
The anger, hope, hurt and blues in Air Commodore M K Chandrashekhar’s echo in my head as I mentally compare the design map of the ‘Veera Bhoomi’ to what met my eyes.
“Freedom is not free. It comes at a price and this was the least we could do to show we value it,” says the veteran, as he chronicles the 11-year journey of the memorial.
The 78-foot stone that stands there had to be ferried from the quarry in Yelahanka, a good 45 km away and its transportation had delayed the project for a long period of time.
The Faujikids had even taken to online petitions and signature campaigns in 2018, met the Defence Minister, after which the then chief minister had directed that the 450- tonne stone be moved in time for Independence Day. But that too was another deadline gone by.
It was only in 2019 after 10 good years that the task to complete the memorial finally regained momentum. The process to move the stone was then put in motion and the stone finally reached the memorial. But troubles were far from over.
The sculptor, Ashok Gudigar, filed a case against the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) demanding more payment (He continues to seek greater remuneration which the BDA terms unacceptable as an amount had been agreed upon at project commencement itself).
This delayed the installation by a few days until the Karnataka High Court disposed of the petition.
It was only after the Chief Minister intervened and sought that the memorial be completed at the earliest have things begun to change.
“I have requested the CM to reconstitute the trust and strengthen it and task it with making this beautiful and solemn memorial a matter of pride for our state and India,” says Chandrashekhar, now hopeful that things will change.
Yediyurappa has entrusted the task to his political secretary Shankar Gowda Patil, who is now overseeing the project. Meetings are being held at the park every fortnight that see all the agencies involved in attendance.
“We are behind schedule but nevertheless, now that the CM has personally taken charge, we are working on it to ensure all that went wrong in the last decade is set right,”assures Patil.
Requests for various military artefacts are being made, there is a dark room being setup so that visitors can have an experience of what the battlefield looks like at night and the nameplates for the three busts too are being readied for installation in the next 10 days.
“The motivation hall is being worked on. The simulation centre will be a functional one soon. All the plaques will be installed and the captions of all the sites on the large maps displayed will be in both Kannada and English, while suitable and qualified guides will be appointed,” explains Patil, adding that the next Kargil Vijay Diwas will surely see the memorial complete in all its grandeur.
“We are also working on having information boards displayed next to the tank, the missiles and the like that are on display. Plain artefacts are not our intention,” says Patil.
“The aim is to ensure that whoever visits the memorial and the motivation hall, walks out with pride,” remarks Patil, assuring that there won’t be any further delays.
When we asked him why not make it part of the Bengaluru Darshan, the official tour organised by the government every day for people visiting the city, Patil said, “Definitely. This is a suggestion we would like to consider and implement at the earliest.”