NEW DELHI, 26 JULY: As the nation today paid homage to the soldiers who a decade ago beat back Pakistani intruders in Kargil, it also inducted its first indigenously-built nuclear-powered submarine, taking the first visible step towards creating the sea leg of its nuclear triad. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh however said that the country has no aggressive designs, though it would take all measures to safeguard itself.
The Prime Minister, who with defence minister AK Antony spent almost the entire Sunday with the armed forces, laid a floral wreath at the memorial to the unknown soldier in India Gate in New Delhi in the morning, while in Drass, Kargil, families of many of the slain soldiers gathered at the invitation of the armed forces to observe the 10th anniversary of the Kargil Vijay Diwas.
It was in the summer of 1999 that India and Pakistan almost came to the edge of having a fourth full-scale war as they faced-off in the snow-capped mountains of Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir. An estimated 530 Indian soldiers were killed in two months of fighting before the Pakistanis were pushed back across the international border.
Wreaths were laid at the War Memorial amid a flypast by Mig 21 Bison aircraft and showering of petals by Chetak helicopters, as the relatives got an account of the bravey of their loved ones from the personnel of the forces, colleagues and friends.
The finale of the two-day ceremony was a musical show by military bands drawn from all over the country followed by a spectacular illumination of Tiger Hill and Tololing, two of the peaks recaptured from the Pakistani intruders after savage fighting.
While the ceremony at India Gate was attended by the defence minister, Mr AK Antony, he and the Army chief Gen. Deepak Kumar gave the ceremony in Drass a miss.
A contingent of tri-services guards presented the salute and buglers sounded the last post as Dr Singh laid a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti. A two-minute silence was observed for those killed in the 60-day war. “I join the entire nation in paying homage to the martyrs of the Kargil war. They sacrificed their lives in defence of Indian unity and integrity,” the PM wrote in the visitor's book.
Later the PM headed to Vishakhapatnam where his wife Mrs Gursharan Kaur broke a coconut and offered a prayer at the launch of the country’s first indigenous nuclear-powered attack submarine, INS Arihant, putting the country in an elite club that includes the USA, Russia, China, France and Britain.
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said the Navy had a major role to play in re-adjusting “our military preparedness”.
The launch of the 6,000-tonne, 110-metre long and 11-metre wide nuclear-powered submarine that can carry nearly 100 sailors comes 25 years after the project was initiated when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
In a clear message to Pakistan, the Prime Minister asserted that India did “not have any aggressive designs nor do we seek to threaten anyone. We seek an external environment in our region, and beyond that is conducive to our peaceful development and the protection of our value systems.”
Congratulating the personnel associated with the submarine, he said this was “a reflection of the immense technical expertise that exists in our country and the strength of our research and development organisations.” Dr Singh said the deep sea strategic capability was necessary in view of the increasing relevance of the sea in the country’s security scenario.
The dockyard where the submarine was housed was flooded before the vessel could be tugged out. Officials said it would take two years of sea trials before the vessel is commissioned into the navy. The steel for the submarine was cut in 1998.
Defence minister Mr AK Antony said the “present situation in our neighbourhood” demanded greater acquisition of strategic assets. Though neither the PM nor Mr Antony named China, the launch of INS Arihant was a clear message since China has the biggest navy in Asia.