Glowing tributes were paid to the soldiers who fought the Kargil War as India on Sunday celebrated the 21st anniversary of its victory, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the world had witnessed the country's strength and the valour of its armed forces when Pakistan tried to "backstab" it.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh too used the occasion to assert that if an "enemy attacks our country, we have shown, as in Kargil, we will give a befitting response" and "this sentiment is as strong today as it was 21 years ago". "We are a peace loving country, but we are ready to take any big step that is required to defend our national unity and sovereignty," he said in remarks which come in the backdrop of the ongoing standoff with China along the Ladakh borders.
Wreaths were laid at various memorials across the country by leaders and senior officers of the three services to commemorate the victory of Indian armed forces after a 60-day war against the Pakistan Army intruders in the Kargil, Drass and Batalik sectors in 1999. Defence Minister Singh, along with Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs, paid homage to the bravehearts, who laid down their lives in 'Operation Vijay', at the National War Memorial in the national capital.
"Kargil Vijay Diwas is symbol of fearless determination and exceptional valour of our armed forces. I salute the soldiers who fought the enemy and laid down their life to defend Bharat Mata. The nation is forever grateful to them and their families," said President Ram Nath Kovind, who is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, General Officer Commanding of the Leh-based Fire and Fury Corps, laid a wreath at the iconic Kargil War Memorial in Drass.
Every years scores of family members of the martyrs and war veterans would gather for the ceremony and various other events. However, the celebrations were low-key this year due to the coronavirus-induced restrictions. Political leaders and people from all walks of life took to social media to praise the exemplary courage and sacrifice of the Indian forces. Hashtags like KargilHeroes, KargilVijayDiwas, IndianArmy and CourageInKargil were trending on Twitter.
The three services and the defence ministry handles released videos celebrating India's victory. "On Kargil Vijay Diwas, we remember the courage and determination of our armed forces, who steadfastly protected our nation in 1999. Their valour continues to inspire generations," Modi tweeted.
Later, in his Mann Ki Baat radio address, the prime minister invoked former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to ask people to speak and act keeping in mind the morale of soldiers. He also urged the youth to visit a website, www.gallantryawards.gov.in, highlighting the tales of bravery of armed forces and police personnel since Independence.
India can never forget the circumstances under which the conflict took place, he stressed. "Pakistan had embarked upon this misadventure, nursing delusions of encroaching upon Indian soil, to distract attention from the internal strife prevailing there. India was then in the process of making efforts to foster good relations with Pakistan," he said.
Referring to an old saying in Sanskrit, Modi said, "To the wicked, enmity with one and all for no reason comes naturally. People with such a disposition keep thinking of harming even their well-wishers" that is why when India extended a hand of friendship, Pakistan tried to stab in the back." When the Indian Army displayed deeds of valour, when India demonstrated its might, the whole world watched, the prime minister said.
Modi said he too got an opportunity to visit Kargil and witness the gallantry of the jawans and described the day as "one of the most precious moments" of his life. In his message, Rajnath Singh said, "Kargil is not only a symbol of national pride but also a big step that was taken against injustice".
Singh too invoked Vajpayee's views on national security. "He said we have proved we will not bow down in front of any external pressures," Singh mentioned. "He (Vajpayee) said we have also proved we are a responsible country. Whatever steps we take with respect to national security, it is always in self-defense and not to attack anyone. If an enemy attacks our country, then we have proven, as in Kargil, we will give a befitting response. Friends, this sentiment is as strong today as it was 21 years ago," the defence minister said.
Referring to the recent visits by him and the prime minister to Ladakh, he lauded the dedication of the soldiers, and noted that the country is militarily — in terms of guns and aerial assets — far better placed in the area than it was 20 years ago. Addressing an event attended by veterans, BJP Chief J P Nadda hailed the armed forces, saying they combined inspiration and strategy with valour to vanquish Pakistan during the Kargil war despite facing adverse circumstances.
The Kargil war was declared over on July 26, 1999, after Indian soldiers pushed back Pakistani troops, a bulk of them drawn from the neighbouring country's Northern Light Infantry, from the captured peaks in Kargil.