Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated Diwali with Army and ITBP personnel in the icy terrain near the India-China border Wednesday and said their devotion to duty in the remote heights is enabling the strength of the nation.
Since becoming prime minister, Modi has been celebrating Diwali with soldiers. On Wednesday, he also offered prayers at Kedarnath and reviewed at length reconstruction projects at Kedarpuri.
Greeting the jawans in the Harshil cantonment area, he said they, through their commitment and discipline, are securing the future and the dreams of 125 crore Indians and helping spread a sense of security and fearlessness among the people.
"You are not only protecting one corner of our land. By securing the country's borders, you are making safe the lives and dreams of 125 crore Indians," Modi, dressed in heavy mountain gear, told the soldiers in the presence of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat.
Likening the soldiers with 'diyas' (earthen lamps), the prime minister said, "The way a diya burns itself to light up the world you lead a hard life to spread the light of fearlessness all around."
He said he had a chance to spend time in the company of soldiers early during his career and he was sensitive to their needs.
He described the implementation of 'one rank, one pension' (OROP) for ex-servicemen, which had been hanging fire for over 40 years, a result of this close association with defence personnel.
"As an RSS member, I got opportunity to live among Army men. At that time, I heard a lot about 'one rank, one pension'. Many governments came and went. Since I was connected to you I understood your emotions. So after becoming prime minister, it was my responsibility to fulfil your dream," Modi said.
"Though its implementation required huge funds to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore, it was done. Today I am happy that over Rs 11,000 crore has already been paid under 'one rank, one pension'," he said.
He also spoke of his interactions with the jawans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) years ago when he was part of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
Modi said that the Indian Armed Forces draw admiration and appreciation across the world. "I feel proud when the Indian peacekeeping forces are praised for their skills, valour and discipline across the world," he said.
After his address, he distributed sweets among soldiers. He also met residents of the border village of Bagori and offered prayers on the banks of Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganga in Harshil.
He later reached Kedarnath to offer prayers and review the progress of reconstruction projects at Kedarpuri.
Modi, who arrived at the Himalayan shrine two days ahead of its annual closure for the winter season, spent two hours here.
He spent around 15 minutes inside the sanctum sanctorum of the famed temple performing Rudrabhishek of lord Shiva to whom the shrine is dedicated.
After emerging from the sanctum sanctorum, Modi took a round of the temple and also paused for a while to take in the beauty of its snow-covered surroundings.
Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and Chief Secretary Utpal Kumar Singh were with the prime minister while he offered prayers at the temple and reviewed at length reconstruction works at Kedarpuri.
He also visited a photo gallery put up in the temple precincts chronicling the reconstruction of areas close to the shrine which were extensively damaged during the 2013 tragedy.
He waved to devotees and locals standing on either side of the Aastha Path leading to the shrine and extended Diwali greetings to them.
Modi walked through Kedarpuri to take stock of the reconstruction projects at the township and later went in a slow moving vehicle to see the retaining walls built on the banks of Mandakini and Saraswati rivers.
He had laid the foundation stone of five reconstruction projects at Kedarpuri last year and has been closely monitoring their progress via video conferencing.
He also went to see a medical facility built near the temple and the samadhi of Adi Guru Shankaracharya which is being rebuilt after being demolished by the catastrophic deluge of 2013.
After becoming the prime minister in 2014, Modi had spent his Diwali at Siachen with jawans. In 2015, he had visited the Punjab border on Diwali. His visit coincided with 50 years of the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
Modi had spent his fourth Diwali as prime minister with soldiers in Gurez in Jammu and Kashmir last year.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)