Dressed in heavy mountain gear, Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated Diwali with Army and ITBP personnel in the icy terrain near the India-China border, saying their devotion to duty in the remote icy heights is enabling the strength of the nation.
Greeting the jawans in the Harshil cantonment area, the prime minister said they, through their commitment and discipline, are securing the future and the dreams of 125 crore Indians and helping spread a sense of security and fearlessness among the people.
"You are not only protecting one corner of our land. By securing the country's borders, you are making safe the lives and dreams of 125 crore Indians," Modi told the soldiers in the presence of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat.
Likening the soldiers with 'diyas' (earthen lamps), the prime minister said, "The way a diya burns itself to light up the world you lead a hard life to spread the light of fearlessness all around."
Remembering his long association with the forces, he said he had a chance to spend time in the company of soldiers early during his career and he was sensitive to their needs.
He described the implementation of 'one rank, one pension' (OROP) for ex-servicemen, which had been hanging fire for over 40 years, a result of this close association with defence personnel.
"As an RSS member, I got opportunity to live among Army men. At that time, I heard a lot about 'one rank, one pension'. Many governments came and went. Since I was connected to you I understood your emotions. So after becoming prime minister, it was my responsibility to fulfil your dream," Modi said.
"Though its implementation required huge funds to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore, it was done. Today I am happy that over Rs 11,000 crore has already been paid under 'one rank, one pension'," the prime minister said.
He also spoke of his interactions with the jawans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), years ago when he was part of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
The prime minister said India is taking great strides forward in the defence sector.
Modi said that the Indian Armed Forces draw admiration and appreciation across the world. "I feel proud when the Indian peacekeeping forces are praised for their skills, valour and discipline across the world," he said.
After his address, the prime minister distributed sweets among soldiers. He also met residents of the border village of Bagori and offered prayers on the banks of Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganga in Harshil.
The prime minister spent about 1.15 hours in Harshil, a cantonment area situated at a height of 7,860 feet close to the India-China border in Uttarkashi district.
The prime minister later reached Kedarnath to offer prayers and review the progress of reconstruction projects at Kedarpuri.
Kedarpuri, the township situated close to the Himalayan shrine, had bore the brunt of the catastrophic floods of 2013, which killed thousands of people.
A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said Modi extensively walked around the entire temple complex, where significant reconstruction works are in progress. He was briefed by senior officials about the progress of the works. He interacted briefly with several people present at the temple complex.
The Kedarnath Temple complex is currently the focus of a major development and reconstruction effort, following the severe flood and landslide in 2013.
The last time the Prime Minister had been to Kedarnath was in October 2017, just before the portals of the Himalayan shrine close for the winters.
After becoming the prime minister in 2014, Modi had spent his Diwali at Siachen with jawans.
In 2015, he had visited the Punjab border on Diwali. His visit coincided with 50 years of the 1965 Indo-Pak war.The next year, Modi was in Himachal Pradesh where he spent time with Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel at an outpost.