- National War Memorial inaugurated in Delhi, near India Gate
- PM Modi attacks Congress at event, says party played with soldiers' lives
- Says party trying to stop Rafale jet from joining Air Force
At the opening of the National War Memorial, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened an all-out attack on the Congress and pitched the Gandhi family as the opponents who always shortchanged the armed forces - from bullet-proof jackets to helicopters and now the Rafale fighter jets. "Is it the nation first or the family first," he questioned during his address. The soldiers, assembled at the memorial in the heart of Delhi, responded with slogans of "Bharat Mata ki Jai".
With weeks to go for the national elections, the occasion acquired a political turn. Speaking before PM Modi, Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "What we need today is your trust, and trust in the Prime Minister. The welfare of ex-servicemen is always at the top of our priorities."
In his address, PM Modi launched a no-holds-barred attack. "Earlier, how soldiers were treated -- you know better than I do... from Bofors to helicopter, all investigations end at the same family. This says a lot," PM Modi said. "Now, these guys are trying too hard to ensure the Rafale deal fails... But soon India will get its first Rafale and their conspiracies will fail," he added.
The Prime Minister also said the "previous governments" showed "criminal negligence" when it came to addressing the needs of security forces.
"May be there was no political benefit for them when it came to honouring martyrs," the Prime Minister said, underscoring they had even failed to get the 1,46,000 bullet-proof jackets the armed forces had asked for.
"Soldiers were facing the enemies without these jackets.. Between 2009 to 2014... these demands were never met. In the last five years, we have purchased more than 2,30,000 bullet proof jackets," he added.
The Congress has made the acquisition of 36 Rafale jets one of their key planks for the coming national elections. The party contends that the government finalised an overpriced deal to benefit Anil Ambani, whose rookie defence firm was recommended as an offset partner for Dassault, the company manufacturing the aircraft. Both Dassault and the government have denied the Congress allegations.
Granting a long-pending demand of the armed forces, the government approved the National War Memorial project in memory of soldiers who laid down their lives since Independence.
Built at the heart of Delhi near the India Gate -- a British-built memorial to Indian soldiers who fell in the First World War -- the National War Memorial comprises four concentric circles with a central obelisk.
The circles have been named the "Amar Chakra", the "Veerta Chakra", the "Tyag Chakra" and the ''Rakshak Chakra'' and the names of 25,942 soldiers have been inscribed in golden letters on granite tablets.
The Prime Minister dedicated the memorial -- built at a cost of Rs 176 crore -- to the martyrs by lighting the flame at the bottom of the obelisk. Helicopters of the Air Force showered rose petals and a fly-past in ''Missing Man'' formation was also part of the event.
The Prime Minister's comment drew a counterattack from the Congress.
"Respected Prime Minster, The National Memorial symbolises the sacrifices of the soldiers of the nation... Do not turn it into a political background with your shameful behaviour and political speeches," senior party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a tweet.
National Conference chief Omar Abdullah tweeted:
Credit to the PM Modi for building a national war memorial after 70 years. Disappointed with politician Modi for politicising the occasion by making a blatantly political speech at the inauguration.— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 25, 2019
"Today's speech should have been made in a BJP election rally not at an event with serving armed service officers, veterans & families in the audience," he added in a second tweet.
Get the latest election news, live updates and election schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on ndtv.com/elections. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates from each of the 543 parliamentary seats for the 2019 Indian general elections.