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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK

World: South Asia

India backs its 'boys'

Troops queue up outside a special phone booth in Kargil

Indian troops on the Kashmir frontline have replaced cricket stars as the country's new heroes.

In a surge of patriotism, Indians are boosting troop morale through an outpouring of money, blood donation and messages of support.

As army troops engage what India says are Pakistani-backed infiltrators occupying strategic heights in Indian-administered Kashmir, politicians, businessmen, prison inmates and ordinary citizens are all contributing to the war effort.

Out on the streets

Thousands of Indians are marching on the streets in solidarity with their soldiers.

[ image:  ]
In Delhi, young children and 80-year olds gathered at the India Gate war memorial to draw images and compose poems on a "cloth wall".

"Dear soldier, you have given your life for the nation. I promise to spend my life for your families," wrote a 14-year old.

Others have been lining up to donate blood at numerous camps set up around the country.

The People's Action Group, a voluntary group that organised the Delhi march, said it would try to send all the messages to the front.

"This is the proof of an expression that counts," said one of the organisers.

"I think we need to start expressing. It is not enough to feel cynical and keep quiet," he said.

Cash and more

In the commercial capital, Bombay, corporate India, which had heavily backed the Indian cricket team through sponsorship and publicity campaigns, is now solidly behind the soldiers.

[ image: A young girl displays her message of support]
A young girl displays her message of support
The BBC's Sanjiv Srivastava says many companies have announced hefty cash contributions to the Indian army welfare fund.

Mobile phone companies and car manufacturers among others have promised a percentage of earnings towards the families of soldiers killed in action.

Last week, commercial sex workers in the Indian capital collected a day's earnings to support the families of soldiers.

'Proud of our boys'

On Tuesday, some of India's cricket stars visited wounded soldiers in Srinagar, the capital of Indian administered Kashmir.

[ image: Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi donates blood]
Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi donates blood
World Cup star Ajay Jadeja and former India captain Kapil Dev flew into Srinagar, after a request by Defence Minister George Fernandes.

"We are proud of our boys," Jadeja told news correspondents after the visit.

Meanwhile, in the southern city of Bangalore, prison inmates pleaded with jail authorities to send them to the battlefront.

The prison authorities collected 100,000 rupees in donations from the inmates. Similar cash donations have been reported from other Indian jails.

'Good Morning India'

As more Indian soldiers pour into Kashmir, special telephone lines have been set up to allow them to speak to their families. The Indian telecommunications department has also announced priority phone connections for soldiers' families.

Indian broadcasters have also joined the support initiative.

Radio stations have begun to air special shows with music and phone-in messages from the public, celebrities and relatives.

The Frontier Show and Hello Jaimala are being broadcast on CBS and FM radio to troops in Srinagar and Kargil.

With daily television briefings and non-stop media coverage on the air, in print and even on the Internet, Indians are following the Kashmir action in great detail.

India has put its casualty figures at 175 killed and 364 wounded. Militants fighting against the Indians have said the figures are much higher.

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