On a day when he slammed Pakistan for continuing its proxy war of terrorism against India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kargil — site of the war fought to evict Pakistani intruders 15 years ago.
"The people of Kargil are very patriotic and it is inspiring for the entire country," Modi, the first PM to hold a rally in Kargil after the 1999 war, said after inaugurating the 44 MW Chutak power station.
"I was here during the Kargil war. People knew I was a BJP worker, yet they never charged me any money. They said this too was a service to the nation.
"I saw soldiers get help and cooperation from people of Kargil. This kept their spirits high. I still remember the celebrations in Kargil the day Tiger Hill was won."
'Pak engaging in proxy war of terrorism'
Earlier in Leh, he came out strongly against Pakistan for continuing its proxy war of terrorism against India, saying it had lost the strength to fight a conventional war.
Addressing troops of the army and the Air Force, he said, "The neighbouring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism."
The PM said Indian armed forces were suffering more casualties from terrorism than from war.
Noting that this was a global problem, he said all humanitarian forces of the world should unite to fight it. "India is committed to strengthening and uniting these humanitarian forces."
Modi said India was committed to strong armed forces, well-equipped with modern weapons and technology. He said soldiers should be assured that the entire country supports them.
The PM said soldiers remained undeterred despite the many negatives and struggles that their families faced in day-to-day life and this energy and sense of duty inspired him. He said he "keeps visiting jawans" on the border to seek inspiration.
Visit ahead of Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls
Modi's visit comes ahead of the assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir later this year.
He said the government would bring saffron revolution in Jammu and Kashmir, quickly adding that it was kesar (the spice) of the state he was talking about.
Saffron is the colour associated with Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"I am fortunate to have worked as a BJP worker in Jammu and Kashmir and will repay the debt I owe you for all the love," he said.
WATCH: Modi's visit to Leh is a big event in itself: Naqvi
"I am aware of the difficulties of the region and also strengths. Centre will work with the state for the development of the region," the PM added after inaugurating the 45 MW Nimoo Bazgo hydroelectric project in Leh.
Modi, who has been to the state twice now after assuming office, said there was a time when PMs never visited the Himalayan areas for years.
Modi's visit to the two high-altitude Himalayan towns is expected to touch on demands of locals in Leh and Kargil including employment generation and an assurance to take up with China and Pakistan respectively the issue of opening of Mansarovar road from Leh and re-opening of Kargil-Skardu road.
The BJP bagged the Ladakh parliamentary constituency for the first time this year when its candidate Thupstan Chhewang won the seat by a slender margin of 36 votes.
Chief executive councillor of Ladakh Hill Development Council Rigzin Spalbar said the people of Ladakh had high expectations from the PM's visit.
"I hope the BJP lives up to its promise of granting Union Territory status to the region," he said.
Spalbar, who has been raising various issues about the difficulties faced by people of this region, said he would also flag the frequent incursion bids by Chinese and attempts to terrorise the local population living along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC).
Armed forces guard the border in harsh winters in high altitude areas including the world's highest battlefield at Siachen glacier.
Temperatures in the Ladakh region dip to minus 30 to 40 degrees Celsius in peak winter.
(With inputs from Agencies)