A jubilant nation erupted with joy today as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walked back into India after almost 60 hours in Pak captivity. The IAF pilot's smiling face warmed the hearts of a billion Indians as he finally returned to India after a long ordeal.
"It is good to be back in my country," was the first reaction of Abhinandan Varthaman as he set his foot back on Indian soil.
This was stated by an official quoting Varthaman after he received the pilot at the Attari-Wagah border soon after his release by Pakistan.
In its reaction, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said on Twitter, "We have Wg Cdr Abhinandan back with us. Indian Air Force is proud of our Airwarrior #Abhinandan."
Varthaman was captured by Pakistani authorities on February 27 after an air combat between the air forces of the two countries, a day after New Delhi had conducted counter-terror operations in Pakistan's Balakot.
"We are happy to have him back," said a top IAF officer shortly after Varthaman was handed over to Indian authorities.
Reading out a brief statement, Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, told a posse of reporters that the pilot will be taken for a detailed medical examination as he was subjected to lot of stress during his nearly three-day captivity.
"He will be taken for a detailed medical checkup. The officer has had to eject from a plane which would have put his body under immense strain," said Kapoor.
The handing over of pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India at Wagah was delayed by several hours as he was asked to record a statement on camera by Pakistani authorities before he was allowed to cross the border, according to sources.
It was not clear whether he was made to record the video under duress. The video also had several jump cuts indicating that it had been edited heavily, apparently to fit Pakistani propaganda.
Leaders cutting across party lines welcomed the return of Indian Air Force pilot and lauded him for his poise and courage and for making the country proud.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the IAF Wing Commander, saying the nation is proud of his exemplary courage.
He said the country's armed forces are an inspiration for the 130 crore Indians. "Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram," he tweeted.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted, "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. Jai Hind."
Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad too lauded the pilot for his bravery and welcomed him back to the country.
"Welcome home. The entire nation is proud of Wing Commander Abhinandan," Singh, the Minister for Home Affairs, tweeted.
Prasad tweeted, "Proud of your courage Wing Commander Abhinandan! Welcome back home. Abhinandan to you. Jai Hind. Bharat Mata Ki Jai."
BJP president Amit Shah said Friday that the entire nation is proud of the courage and valour of the pilot and that India is glad to have him back.
"Dear Wing Commander Abhinandan, entire nation is proud of your courage and valour. 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," Shah said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi welcomed IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan said his dignity, poise and bravery have made all in India proud.
"Wing Cdr. Abhinandan, your dignity, poise and bravery made us all proud. Welcome back and much love," he said on Twitter.
(With inputs from PTI)