New Delhi/Wagah, Mar 1 : Special prayers and thanks giving went across the country on Friday evening after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned home to a hero's welcome.
Yagnas, special pujas marked the day in places like Chennai, a sand sculpture of the valiant Air Force officer came up in Puri and ‘yagnas’ were performed by patriot Indians including in national capital and Diyas were lit in Punjab as nation rejoiced the return of the soldier.
The episode is also seen in more ways than one as a diplomatic win for India as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan apparently had to make a climb down and agreed to release the pilot, whose vantage MiG 21 Bison had hit the powerful fighter jet F-16 on February 27. Unfortunately, however, the pilot had fallen into PoK area and was taken into custody by Pakistan army.
The government though came under pressure as video and photographs of the captured pilot went viral on social media, it made clear to Pakistani side that there will be "no deal" and the Pakistan will have to return him safe and sound.
The government was cautious that it does not fall into Pakistani trap of 1999 when the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked and the life of the passengers were 'bargained' for the release of terrorist Masood Azhar.
Senior Indian Army and Air Force officers were present at the border post to receive the pilot, when Pakistan handed him over to the Indian authorities, after completing the tedious formalities. Crowds had been waiting at Wagah check post for hours to warmly receive him and accord him a hero's welcome.
A senior army officer was seen taking the valiant pilot by arms as they walked in to a special vehicle. Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the safe return of Wg Cdr Abhinandan and said the nation is proud of his "exemplary courage". "Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan," Prime Minister tweeted.
He further said : "The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians, Vandematarm".
“Wing Commander Abhinandan has just been handed over to us. He will be taken now for a detailed medical check-up. This check-up is mandatory as he had to eject from an airplane which would have put his entire body under stress,” Vice-Chief Marshal R G K Kapoor told reporters at Wagah.
He declined to take questions on the 'perceived' delay as the Indian side was expecting that the pilot would return home much earlier. Finally, he crossed over only at around 9.15 pm.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also tweeted: "Proud of you Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. 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. Jai Hind," she wrote.
Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir on February 14. Indian Air Force undertook the aerial strike on February 26 and destroyed a terror camp at Balakot.
Pakistan tried to escalate the situation on February 27 by trying to target India's military installations in the northern sector. The nefarious designs were, however, foiled. UNI