Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday celebrated Diwali with soldiers in a remote and strategic area in Himachal Pradesh, adjoining the Chinese border, and said he had kept the promise of implementing “one rank, one pension” for ex-servicemen that was hanging fire for the last over four decades.
Modi also later made an unscheduled trip to a village, Chango, and said he was “deeply touched by the impromptu reception and their joy”.
Dressed in olive green and donning a local cap with a green flap adorned with dry flowers, the Prime Minister interacted with men from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Dogra Scouts and the army at Sumdoh.
Sumdoh, some 330 km from Shimla, is located on the border of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts.
Official sources said the Prime Minister reached Sumdoh around 11 a.m. and spent more than three hours at Sumdoh and Chango. He was accompanied by the Army chief, General Dalbir Singh.
The Prime Minister also met personnel of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF), a wing of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) that maintains highways, at Sumdoh, an official said.
Addressing the soldiers, he said he had been visiting armed forces personnel every year on Diwali since 2001.
He mentioned the tremendous response from people across the country to his appeal for sending messages to soldiers as part of the #Sandesh2Soldiers campaign.
Without naming Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who questioned the implementation of the “one rank, one pension” scheme, Modi said it was a promise made to ex-servicemen 40 years ago and that he was happy he fulfilled it.
Mingling freely, Modi went up to the soldiers holding a plate of sweets. At least one soldier offered him a sweet in return, much to the joy of everyone.
While returning from Sumdo, the Prime Minister halted briefly at nearby Chango village. He exchanged Diwali greetings, interacted with the people there and offered sweets to children.
Modi then spent some time with the locals in Chango village in Kinnaur district, known for its delicious apples.
Villagers taken aback by the Prime Minister’s arrival raised slogans hailing him. Dressed in warm clothes, Modi spent time with the residents of the village, including women and children.
He also posed with everyone in a group photograph, with the mountains providing a majestic background.
BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma said: “It’s a historic moment for the locals of the remote village adjoining China to interact with the Prime Minister.”
“This is the first visit of any Prime Minister in this area and this would ensure development in the area,” Sharma said.
This was Modi’s second visit to the Mandi parliamentary constituency this month.
Earlier, he visited Mandi town on October 18 to inaugurate three hydropower projects and address a public rally.
The Lahaul-Spiti district, spread over 13,835 sq km, is a place of remote, untouched beauty with just 31,528 people. The climatic conditions are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius during winter.
The Prime Minister had celebrated his first Diwali after coming in power in 2014 with soldiers posted in Siachen. In 2015, he was at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.