Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday paid tributes to the artists and freedom fighters of West Bengal and praised the state for leading the way for India. The prime minister virtually addressed Durga Puja pandals as he inaugurated celebrations in the state.

“Bengal has always led the way for India and showed the right path, whenever a need was felt in history,” Modi said. “Many renowned people came from Bengal and guided the nation is the right direction.”

Modi remembered the contributions of poet Rabindranath Tagore, novelists Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy and freedom fighters from the state. “If I continue to take the names of such illustrious Bengalis, we will reach the end of the day, but the names will continue,” he added. Modi also said that Bengal will strengthen India’s “atma nirbhar” or self-reliance vision.

The prime minister went on to invoke Goddess Durga, adding that she was a symbol of “shakti” or strength. He also spoke about his government’s relentless efforts to empower women. Modi said that the Centre had opened “Jan Dhan” accounts for 22 crore women and extended them loans under the Mudra Yojana.

Modi added: “We also launched the ‘Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao’ initiative, extended maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks and gave women permanent commission in the armed forces.”

The prime minister highlighted that laws against rape had been made more stringent to allow death penalty for the accused.

Modi also urged people to strictly follow coronavirus-related safety measures while celebrating Durga Puja. He added that though the coronavirus has subdued Durga Puja celebrations, the enthusiasm was the same.

In his address to the nation on Tuesday too, Modi had emphasised on the need to stay vigilant during the festival season. “The lockdown may have gone but virus has not gone,” he had said. “This is not the time to become irresponsible or believe that coronavirus has gone away.” The prime minister added that the fight against the coronavirus had to continue till a vaccine was found.

Modi’s Durga Puja address is being seen an outreach ahead of the Assembly elections in Bengal in 2021. The Bharatiya Janata Party had set up 78,000 screens across election booth in the state to enable live viewing of the prime minister’s address, according to NDTV.