Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent Diwali with jawans of the Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Dogra Scouts at forward posts along the Sino-Indian border in Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. At a time when tensions with Pakistan are running high, the Prime Minister also dedicated a large part of his Mann ki Baat address on radio hailing the soldiers, saluting their valour, and lauding their sacrifices. He called upon people to remember their gallantry while celebrating Diwali. “In the wake of recent events, our soldiers have been sacrificing their everything for the safety and security of the country. Their dedication and valour has overwhelmed me completely. Let us dedicate this Diwali to our armed forces,” Modi said.
“Our forces endure grave hardships for our security. Someone is stationed in a desert, someone on the Himalayas, someone is guarding our industrial installations and someone is protecting our airports. Everyone is fulfilling a mighty responsibility. If we remember them while being in a festive mood, our remembrance will give them strength and renewed energy,” he said. The PM’s visit to Himachal Pradesh was kept a closely guarded secret until the time his chopper landed at Chango, near Sumdo, a base camp of the Army and ITBP in Lahaul-Spiti. He later travelled to Sumdo in Kinnaur district, where he spent 15-20 minutes with jawans and distributed sweets. “We had no information about the Prime Minister’s visit. There were media reports about him celebrating Diwali with ITBP jawans in Uttrakhand,” Chief Secretary V C Pharka said.
To the jawans, who raised slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram”, the PM said: “Because you guard our borders, people sleep at night. If you were not on the borders, people couldn’t have slept.” Modi recalled that ‘One Rank, One pension’ (OROP) had been one of his first moves on assuming charge as PM. “When I asked for the file, I realised the liability was not Rs 200 crore or Rs 500 crore. It was Rs 10,000 crore. I consulted Army officers, suggesting that the arrears be paid in four instalments. I compliment the Army officers who agreed, and now the arrears were being deposited in instalments,” he said.
On the way back, Modi stopped at Kinnaur’s Chango village, and extended Diwali greetings to them. Ramlal Markande, a former BJP minister and Lahaul-Spiti MLA, said the Army had invited local villagers after the Prime Minister expressed a desire to meet them. “Around 25 people including several women met him by roadside, and offered him Himachali cap, which the Prime Minister happily accepted,” Markande said. In his radio address, Modi lauded Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel a day before his 141th birth anniversary, and also expressed anguish that on that very day several decades later, so many sardars — Sikhs — had lost their lives in the riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
“We do commemorate the death anniversary of great human beings. We should do that also… But a phone call from a gentleman of Punjab, his pain has touched me,” Modi said, recalling his conversation with one Jasdeep. October 31 is the birth anniversary of Patel, who dedicated his life to uniting the nation and succeeded in bringing its peoples together, it was the country’s bad luck that it was the same day on which Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Jasdeep said. “And all of us know what kinds of incidents happened in the country after her assassination. How can we check such unfortunate events, incidents?” Modi quoted Jasdeep as saying.
This, the PM said, is “not the pain of one person”. “A Sardar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel… History is witness to it that after Chanakya, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel made the stupendous effort to unite the country. Greetings to the man, who accomplished this huge task, who made a successful attempt to bring independent India under one banner. “But there is also this pain that while Sardar Sahab lived and fought for unity, even remained a victim of anger of some people because of his priority for unity but never left the path of unity, on the birth anniversary of the same Sardar, thousands of Sardars, families of thousands of Sardars were killed after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. A page of history, the atrocities on Sardars on the birth anniversary of Sardar, the great person who dedicated his whole life for unity, pains all of us.
(“Lekin yeh bhi to peeda hai ki Sardar Sahab ekta ke liye jiye, ekta ke liye joojhte rahe, ekta ki unki praathmikata ke karan kaiyon ke narajagi ke shikar bhi rahe, lekin usi sardar ki janm-jayanti par hazaron sardaron, hazaron sardaron ke parivaaron ko Shrimati Gandhi ki hatya ke baat maut ke ghaat utaar diya gaya. Ekta ke liye jeevan bhar jeene waale us mahapurush ke janmdin par hi, aur Sardar ke janmdin par hi Sardaron ke saath zulm, itihaas ka ek panna, hum sabko peeda deta hai.”) The Prime Minister added “but amid these crises, we have to move forward with the mantra of unity”, stressing that “unity in diversity” is the strength of the nation.
“Every generation has one responsibility. Every government has the responsibility to find out the opportunities of unity from every corner of the country and highlight the elements of unity. We should keep ourselves as well as the nation from the thinking and tendency of divisions. Sardar Sahab gave us one India (ek bharat), and it is our responsibility to make it great India (Shrestha Bharat). It is the basic mantra of unity that builds the foundation for a great India ,” the Prime Minister said.
The PM also talked about the contribution of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev to end social vices like casteism and untouchability and said his teachings are still the guiding path not only for India but the entire human race. Referring to the upcoming Prakash Utsav, which is celebrated by Sikhs to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the Prime Minister said that there can be no better guide than Guru Nanak Dev if one has to move forward with “sabka saath, sabka vikas” to end discrimination.
On his pet theme of Swachhata, he said that the festival of Diwali is a symbol of “swachhta” with every family taking it upon themselves to clean their houses. The PM, however said, “the call of time is to extend this campaign of cleanliness out of one’s house to one’s surroundings.” Modi also talked at length on how the festival of Diwali is being celebrated across the globe, and the importance it is being given by the heads of various countries.