by Arun Joshi

It is a fact known to very few that Narendra Modi had visited Kargil during the war in the trans-Himalayan heights in the summer of 1999 when he was simply a leader of the saffron party and no one knew that he would be Prime Minister of the country for two consecutive terms. Around this time, 20 years ago, Kargil war was at its peak.

Modi’s visit to Kargil had coincided with the recapture of the most strategic Tiger Hill that stands at the height of over 16,000 feet, and the soldiers had to fight guns and boulders that were rolled down on them by the enemy that had intruded there. This strategic victory made the world to recognise the way the Indian Army had scripted new rules of mountain warfare with its sweat and blood.

He held no government position that time. He was the BJP’s in charge of Himachal Pradesh and had accompanied the then HP Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal to Kargil to be “with the Jawans”.

The moment this reporter told him that Tiger Hill has been recaptured and the Tricolour was flying over there, Modi got emotional for a moment. His spontaneous words were: “It is a great victory.” His tone was steady and that also revealed inner steel of his persona, as if he knew that it had to happen. It was the kind of confidence that he had in the soldiers.

A day later, he told a press conference in Srinagar: “Our (Indian) victory is inevitable. The recapture of Tiger Hill has demonstrated that we are nearing complete victory. This was minutes before he left for Kargil, considered to be dangerous zone, along with Dhumal and J&K BJP lawmaker Ashok Khajuria. The latter had introduced this reporter to him.

In Kargil, he interacted with Jawans without caring for the reports that Pakistan was shelling Kargil airport too. Pakistanis had fired artillery shells at the airport when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had visited Kargil a few days earlier.

Twenty years have passed — Kargil war is embedded in our military history, and it stirs patriotic emotions as the nation recalls with great gratitude “Operation Vijay” that delivered victory in the most difficult and challenging circumstances.

While the war was on and the Indian Army was in a formidable position to cross the LoC, the then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had suggested to Prime Minister Vajpayee to allow the “Indian army to cross the LoC, as that would deliver an appropriate message to Pakistan not to undertake such misadventure again. Vajpayee did not agree to that, but he did give a green signal to the air force to provide aerial support to the soldiers close to the LoC. The instructions were clear that even the air space was not to be breached.

Modi is a different persona. He ordered the Balakot aerial strike in the aftermath of the February 14 terror attack in Pulwama, changing the course of the whole narrative of punishing terrorism and misadventures. And, he did not forget to spend his Diwali festival time with soldiers at Siachen Glacier, reckoned to be the highest battlefield in the world, in his first year as Prime Minister in 2014.