A country of more than one billion breathed a collective sigh of relief and quickly erupted in celebration as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walked into India from the Attari-Wagah border after three days in Pakistan's captivity. The ace Indian Air Force pilot's MiG-21 plane went down over the Line of Control on Wednesday after he shot down a far more advanced Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during the first aerial encounter between the two countries in nearly half a century.
As the whole country stood glued to televisions and cheered his return, reactions poured on social media as soon as he stepped into India at around 9:20 pm. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman told Indian officials that it was "good to be back". From President Ram Nath Kovind to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, many posted messages on Twitter.
Welcome home Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman! India is proud of your courage and sense of duty, and above all your dignity. Wishing you and our entire Air Force every success in the future #PresidentKovind- President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) March 1, 2019
Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan!- Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 1, 2019
The nation is proud of your exemplary courage.
Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians.
Proud of you Wing Commander #AbhinandanVarthaman. The entire nation appreciates your valour and grit. You held your calm in the face of adversity. You are an inspiration to our youth. Salute. Vande Mataram.- Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) March 1, 2019
Wing Cdr. Abhinandan, your dignity, poise and bravery made us all proud. Welcome back and much love.- Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 1, 2019
Welcome Home! The entire Nation is proud of Wing Commander Abhinandan.- Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) March 1, 2019
Dear Wing Commander Abhinandan, entire nation is proud of your courage and valour.- Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 1, 2019
India is glad to have you back.
May you continue to serve the nation and IAF with unparalleled passion and dedication. Best wishes for your bright future.
India's happiness on return of Wing Commander Abhinandan is unprecedented. I salute the courage and resilience of Wg Commander Abhinandan.- Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) March 1, 2019
The hero finally walks back. A grateful nation salutes Wing Commander Abhinandan. You are an inspiration for all of us- Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 1, 2019
India Salutes you Wing Commander Abhinanand! Welcome Back! You are the real hero. #WelcomeHomeAbhinandan- Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) March 1, 2019
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman instantly became a hero in India for his role in foiling Pakistan's attempt to attack Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, a day after India targeted a terrorist camp in Pakistan's Balakot.
He was also praised for his grit and composure as he was beaten up by locals, blindfolded and handcuffed by the Pakistani military and then questioned, seen in videos emerging out of Pakistan that violated the Geneva Convention.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced in parliament that the country would release him as a "peace gesture". Ties between India and Pakistan have plunged to a new low after a suicide bomb attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama last month that killed 40 paramilitary troops. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility, prompting India to lash out at Islamabad for supporting terrorists.