Prime Minister Narendra Modi be g an his Diwali day at Siachen, where he lauded the armed forces and promised a national memorial for Indian soldiers. On a daylong visit to Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), Modi also announced a slew of measures, including a special package of Rs745 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, for the flood-affected people in the state.
Dressed in woollen battle-fatigues, a red scarf and snow goggles at Siachen base camp, the PM promised to enforce a one-rank-one-pension scheme for the armed forces during his tenure.
Watch:Modi in Siachen
“It is because of your courage that 125 crore Indians are celebrating a peaceful Diwali in their homes,” said Modi, addressing the troops in Hindi, adding that the purpose of his visit was to convey to the soldiers that the nation stands shoulder to shoulder with them.
“We have a peaceful sleep because you are living a tough life on the borders… I am fortunate that as a servant of the nation, I got to see in what circumstances the soldiers have to live here. It is my duty to see that you and your family live in pride.”
The last prime minister to visit Siachen was Manmohan Singh in 2005.
The Siachen conflict between India and Pakistan has claimed more than 2,000 lives on both sides since 1984, with most soldiers falling victim to inhospitable weather and altitude-related illnesses.
The PM also extended Diwali greetings to everyone, including President Pranab Mukherjee, from Siachen. “Perhaps, this is the first time a prime minister has got the wonderful opportunity of spending time with our jawans on this auspicious day... Am sure this would be among the most unique greetings Pranabda received,” Modi tweeted.
A special plane carrying Modi landed at the technical area of Srinagar airport around 2.10pm where he was received by governor NN Vohra, chief minister Omar Abdullah and members of his council of ministers besides senior officers of civil, military and police.
Later in the day, after announcing the flood relief package in Srinagar, Modi said Rs 570 crore would be provided by the Centre for renovation of houses, Rs175 crore would be given for start of immediate renovation work of six major hospitals across the state.
More than 280 people had died in the floods, which had caused an estimated $17 billion in damage to homes and businesses.
The PM told reporters after meeting J-K chief minister Omar Abdullah that he was “seriously considering” a demand made by people whose houses were damaged by the flood waters, if the money for their renovation could be directly sent to their bank accounts.
Modi had a one-to-one meeting with Omar in which the chief minister briefed him on the gigantic challenge of reconstructing J-K and rehabilitating the flood affected families.
Modi's visit was celebrated by BJP workers, who gathered in the heart of Srinagar to welcome him, even as shops and business establishments remained closed because of a bandh call by separatists.
Party workers praised Modi for the special attention he is giving to Kashmir. This is the prime minister's fourth visit to the state since he came to power in May this year. The previous visit was on September 7, during the devastating floods in the state.
Briefing reporters about the Prime Minister’s visit, Union home secretary Anil Goswami said Modi also announced free replacement of books and notebooks to all the children up to primary and upper primary schools.
Moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, meanwhile, criticised the Modi government for `not undertaking any rehabilitation work in the Valley'.
Speaking to HT from his Hazratbal residence, where he remained under house arrest on Diwali day, Mirwaiz Umar said, "BJP led government has neither announced any package for the flood victims nor is allowing any international aid to come to the valley. Either they should help out the flood affected in a big way or allow international aid to come in."
Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani accused Modi of rubbing “salt on our wounds” by visiting Kashmir on Diwali, but not extending Eid greetings to Kashmiri Muslims.
Shops and businesses were closed in J-K as separatists protested the visit by Modi.
Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, to prevent demonstrations. Steel barricades were erected on main roads and separatist leaders were held under house arrest to stop them from taking out any protests during the visit.