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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday led the nation in paying tribute to the heroes of the 1971 India-Pakistan war and marking 50 years of victory in the third war with the neighbour that led to the liberation of Bangladesh and is globally recognized as a glorious and unforgettable chapter in India’s military history.

Pakistan’s unconditional surrender involving 93,000 soldiers was the biggest in the world after World War II.

A solemn ceremony was organized at the National War Memorial at India Gate to commemorate the golden jubilee of the war that gave India a new generation of heroes and forever altered the history and geography of South Asia. It also marked the culmination of the year-long Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations of the spectacular victory achieved under the leadership of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and army chief General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw.

“On this special day of Vijay Diwas, I had the honour of paying my respects at the National War Memorial and merging into the Eternal Flame, the four Vijay Mashaals which traversed across the length and breadth of the country over the course of last one year," Modi wrote on Twitter.

The ceremony was attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, navy chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar, and other top military officials. Late chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat looked forward to attending the event, but was killed in a helicopter crash last week along with 13 others.

As a part of the Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations to commemorate the war’s golden jubilee, Modi, on 16 December 2020, lit the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal from the eternal flame at the National War Memorial along with the four flames that later travelled across the country.

“Since then, these four flames have traversed across the length and breadth of the country, including to Siachen, Kanyakumari, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Longewala, Rann of Kutch, and Agartala (before returning to Delhi). The flames were taken to key battle areas and also to the houses of gallantry award winners and veterans of the 1971 war," the government said.

Modi on Thursday merged the four flames with the eternal flame at the war memorial during the reception ceremony of the Swarnim Vijay Mashaals.

Families of the 1971 war heroes appreciated the government’s gesture to celebrate the golden jubilee in a big way. Mukesh Khetarpal, the brother of one of India’s greatest war heroes 2/Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, said it was humbling to see that even after 50 years, the country still remembered the heroes, including Arun. Arun Khetarpal is among the only 21 Indian soldiers decorated with Param Vir Ckakra (PVC), India’s highest wartime military honour, for their heroism in independent India’s history. Khetarpal was only 21 and commissioned in Poona Horse only six months before the war began, when he destroyed seven Pakistani Patton tanks in the Battle of Basantar fought on 16 December 1971.

Rajnath Singh recalled the courage and sacrifice of soldiers in the war. “On the occasion of Swarnim Vijay Diwas, we remember the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces during the 1971 war. The 1971 war is the golden chapter in India’s military history. We are proud of our armed forces and their achievements," he said. Singh also unveiled a commemorative stamp marking the golden jubilee. This day is celebrated as Vijay Diwas every year to mark Pakistan’s surrender and India’s decisive victory. The 13-day war ended on 16 December 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh.

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