Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday visited Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district to celebrate Diwali with Indian Army soldiers, PTI reported. The prime minister lauded the soldiers for their “monumental service” to the nation.

This was Modi’s first visit to the state since his government revoked its special constitutional status by hollowing out Article 370 of Constitution, and imposed restrictions on public movement and a communications blockade. Most restrictions have been lifted though the situation in Kashmir Valley has not normalised yet.

“Their vigilance and valour keeps our nation safe!” Modi tweeted. “I also spoke about the major steps our government is taking for the welfare of soldiers. Anecdotes about the courage of our soldiers are widely shared but do you also know about the stupendous efforts of our armed forces during natural disasters?”

Modi said lakhs died or became refugees when the country was partitioned, but added India has no “ill-will towards them [Pakistan]”. “Our brave soldiers foiled their plans and today we are proud to have it as part of India,” he said, according to NDTV. “They managed to capture some part of it, they have occupied it illegally – it still stings us.”

Modi claimed that terrorists controlling Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were attempting to disturb and prevent Jammu and Kashmir from going back to normalcy. “What we’ve been seeing is killing of apple traders and drivers from outside the state ferrying apple crop, preventing of shops from opening, the threatening of children from going to schools...all this is the part of the narrative of terrorists.”

In recent weeks, three truck drivers, a labourer from Chhattisgarh, and an apple trader from Punjab have been killed in Shopian and Pulwama districts. On Saturday, six security personnel were injured after suspected militants threw a grenade at a Central Reserve Police Force team deployed at a checkpoint outside a hospital in Srinagar.

The prime minister said the courage of the security forces made it possible for the Centre to take its decisions. He added that since it was the Indian tradition to spend Diwali with family, he decided to visit the soldiers.

“There are many border areas but this region where you are, is unique,” ANI quoted Modi as saying. “Be it war, insurgency, infiltration – this has had to suffer all of it and it has come out of that every time. It is a region that has never seen defeat. It is not only victorious but also invincible.” The prime minister added that the armed forces should also be modernised with the latest arms, ammunition and training.

Modi was accompanied by Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who on Friday had said Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was controlled by terrorists and not the country’s establishment.

The prime minister spoke to Indian Air Force personnel at the Pathankot Air Force Station on his way back from Rajouri.

“Prime Minister reached Bhimber Gali Brigade along the LoC in Rajouri district this morning to celebrate Diwali with the soldiers,” Defence spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand told Hindustan Times. “The PM complimented the soldiers for guarding the frontiers and foiling sinister designs of the elements inimical to the nation.”

In 2014, after taking charge as prime minister, Modi celebrated the festival with soldiers in Siachen. The following year, he spent Diwali at the Punjab border on the same day as the 50th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war.

Sunday also marked Infantry Day, which commemorates the arrival of the first Indian soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 to stop Pakistan-supported intrusions.

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