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Modi set for Siachen trip

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to meet soldiers at the Siachen glacier during a visit to Ladakh days before his first speech from New Delhi’s Red Fort on the Independence Day.

The visit to the army’s Siachen glacier base camp would be dependent on the weather on August 12 and Modi may take a helicopter from Leh. He is scheduled to inaugurate two hydel power projects in Leh and Kargil, Union minister of state for power Piyush Goyal said on the sidelines of a conference hosted by industry body Ficci.

At Leh, Modi, who may be accompanied by the army chief, General Dalbir Singh, is also likely to be given a briefing at the headquarters of the 14 Corps. The briefing would seek to give an understanding of the terrain and frontiers with both Pakistan and China, especially that of eastern Ladakh where India complained of a violation of a confidence-building agreement by Chinese troops in June.

Modi’s first visit to Siachen will be keenly watched and compared with Manmohan Singh’s first as Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister had floated the idea of a “peace mountain” during that visit, opening a door for talks with Pakistan.

Modi, too, is currently in a season of talks with Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended his inaugural and the foreign secretary is scheduled to visit Islamabad on August 25.

But in April, as the elections were peaking, Modi had advocated a hard-line approach. At a speech in Chennai, he had insinuated that the UPA II government was preparing for a sell-out on Siachen where Indian troops have been holding the heights since 1984 and Pakistan has been claiming the territory as its own.

“There is a buzz on the social media that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed to hand over Siachen to Pakistan under US pressure,” Modi had said during the campaigning. “I don’t know what is the truth in this matter. But the whole nation including me wants the Prime Minister to come clean on this.”

This visit to Siachen, if it happens, would be Modi’s second to a military establishment after his first to the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier. He is also likely to visit Mumbai at the end of the month for the commissioning ceremony of a destroyer named Kolkata, the first in the class of “stealth destroyers”.

Goyal said the Prime Minister would also lay the foundation stone for the first power transmission line from Leh to Kargil and Kargil to Srinagar.