Meerut : A yearlong celebration to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1857 uprising, popularly known as India's first war of Independence, was kick started Sunday with thousands of youth, freedom fighters and officials converging at the Jung-e-Azadi Park here.
Uttar Pradesh Governor T.V. Rajeshwar and Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar launched the celebration at the park, formerly known as Victoria Park, where the Sepoy Mutiny sowed its seed with the denial by the Indian sepoys to accept the animal grease-coated "offensive" cartridges given by the British rulers in 1857.
Over 10,000 people, between the ages 18-35, will march from the park to Delhi over five days to reach the Red Fort on May 11 for a grand celebration.
"The 1857 mutiny was a symbol of our unity, nationality and love for secularism. We urge all the youngsters of the country to march from here Monday with same zest and vigour," Aiyer told the gatherings.
"With this celebration we not only remember the role of our forefathers in giving us independence but also expect the young generation to move in the direction of nation building," he added.
Governor Rajeshwar said: "The park is an epitome of our fight against British tyranny and their attempt to dissuade us from our belief. We salute the role of our freedom fighters even before the 1857 war."
The governor also felicitated 31 freedom fighters on the occasion and presented them with stoles and mementoes.
The rally, organised by Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, will be flagged of by Aiyer.
Sunday's programme saw the participation of freedom fighters, members of the local administration and officials of the ministry of sports and youth affairs.
The 80 km rally will have halts en-route at Modi Nagar, Murad Nagar and Ghaziabad. Various programmes will be organised at these places.
Around 20,000 more volunteers are expected to join the march on its way to Delhi and 7,000 more would participate in the rally in Delhi.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi would be among those to attend the programme at the Red Fort.
Former prime ministers A.B. Vajpayee, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda, Chandra Shekhar and I.K. Gujral have been invited along with many freedom fighters.
The government has sanctioned Rs.1.5 billion for the celebrations.