It is, perhaps, one of the earliest lessons from my school days. Our school was amidst the pristine Himalayan range in the Garhwal region of the Uttarakhand (Uttar Pradesh at that time). Our teacher gave us thin branches of pine trees and asked us to break them, and we all did so easily. He then bound the sticks in a rope and asked us to break the lot. We all tried one after another but could not break it. That example was etched in my mind. In my journey to the Shiksha Mantralaya of the largest democracy of the world, that was my first exposure to real shiksha. Great teachers undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on the minds of the students. Those lessons on unity and solidarity are an integral part of my personal and public life.
One such great teacher was Acharya Chanakya, who also emphasised unity like no one else. Chanakya was a master strategist; the goal of his life was to unite the Subcontinent into Akhand Bharat. He understood the importance of connecting the various kingdoms in the Subcontinent and took a sacred vow to tie the entire geography of the Subcontinent into one polity. In his Arthashastra, he highlights that without unity, it is not possible to have a sustainable state. That it is the prerequisite for prosperity.
In medieval times, we have seen how the lack of unity amongst rulers cost us foreign rule. In 1947, the ideas of Chanakya came back in the form of the great son of the soil, Vallabhbhai Patel, a realist and pragmatic leader. The man who understood the ground realities and took this task of uniting the princely states into a modern nation-state. The iron man of India, he was the real architect of “Ek Bharat”.
In 2014, after the NDA came to power under the unifying leadership of our beloved Prime Minister, the Government of India decided to celebrate the birthday of Vallabhbhai Patel as the National Unity Day to recognise his monumental contribution and service to the nation.
Today as we celebrate the National Unity Day, I pay my profound tributes to the “Sardar”, for his determination, dedication, diplomacy, and iron will that united India.
The young Patel wanted to go to England to study law, but he stood down in favour of his elder brother Vitthalbhai, and sponsored his trip to England from the money he had saved for himself. He did all this to maintain the unity and honour of the family.
In his journey from a pleader at the Godhra court to the leader of the largest and youngest democracy of the world, Sardar Patel held unity dear to him. He integrated the farmer’s cause in Kheda and Bardoli with the national freedom movement. The Kheda satyagraha of 1918 is an epitome of the unity and discipline shown by farmers, even when their land, assets, and means of livelihood were seized. It was a sign of the support which Patel’s leadership got from the peasants. Because of the cohesive and coherent efforts, Britishers had to revise the tax conditions and return the confiscated land to the owners. It gives us another postulate that unity undergirds justice.
Ten years down the line, Patel again showed that unity is power. During the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, he firmly conveyed to all the farmers, peasants, and workers that he would lead them only if they promise to remain united for the cause. He told them that they might have to face dire consequences of non-cooperating with foreign rule. The charismatic, firm, and detail-oriented leader received a firm backing and assurance from all the satyagrahis, including women. The properties were returned, and the united efforts restored revenue rates. It is this Bardoli Satyagraha in which the women of Bardoli gave him the title of “Sardar”, the leader.
Just after Independence, our country was divided into 560 princely states that were released from the British suzerainty; there was colossal chaos, confusion and conjugation. The great leader shows great character during the greatest of challenges, and so did Patel Sahib. He rose to the occasion and did one of the most remarkable integrations in the history of the world. He united all the big and small princely states of India. The most noteworthy part of Sardar Patel’s endeavour was his understanding and ability to combine such a diverse country in terms of geography, languages, cultures, and traditions.
The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is engaging with the legacy of Sardar Patel with all due considerations, respect and diligence. The Prime Minister says that unity is “power, strength, progress and empowerment”. Under his leadership, different ministries are organising exchange programmes, youth festivals, language learning for the paired states under the Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat initiative led by the Ministry of Education. The Prime minister has unparalleled fervour, faith and firmness to take this integration to the next level.
Our PM has taken a vow for the political, economic, and social integration of all Indians. From the ideas of PMJDY, PMUY to the clarion call for an Atmanirbhar Bharat, his leadership is committed to making the “Ek Bharat” given to us by Sardar Patel into a “Shreshtha Bharat”.
The writer is the Union HRD minister
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