Sardar Patel: The man behind Ek Bharat

Bharat is a contiguous land with a common civilisation identity for many millennia. Pre-independence India, on the other hand, consisted of territories that were administered by more than 560 princely states and several colonial powers. The first half of 1947 was a crucial period in India’s history. The end of colonial rule was certain and so was India’s partition, but there was no clarity on the political integration of the territories under the princely states. The partition of the country into the dominions of India and Pakistan raised the important question of peacefully merging the princely states which were as diverse as they could be it in size, population, terrain or economic situation.

Therefore, the challenge in front of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was not an easy one. As the architect of Ek Bharat, the Iron Man understood the ground realities and took up the mammoth task of unifying the princely states. This set the seeds for building a modern nation state – merging India’s political boundaries with our civilisational boundaries to the extent possible. The Sardar understood the importance of uniting the country and highlighted the fact that without unity it will be impossible to have a sustainable state.

Since 2014, India has been celebrating the birthday of Sardar Patel as National Unity Day. This day not only recognises his monumental contribution and service to the nation but also engages with his legacy. Several policy formulations and legislations including the abrogation of Article 370, and the Citizenship Amendment Act are driven from the Prime Minister drawing his inspiration from Sardar Patel. This also gives us an opportunity to discuss and deliberate on the gross injustices done in recognising the contributions of stalwarts such as Sardar Patel who did not belong to that one “preeminent family”. If internal democracy had its way in the Congress Party, Sardar Patel could have been India’s first Prime Minister. Sardar’s legacy was continuously undermined and it took more than four decades after his demise for him to be awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1991.

On October 31, 2015, on the occasion of the 140th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat. While addressing the audience during the Mann Ki Baat programme prior to Sardar’s birth anniversary, the Prime Minister remarked, “Sardar Patel gave us Ek Bharat and it is now the solemn duty of 125 crore Indians to collectively make Shreshtha Bharat.”

Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat is an emotion wherein different cultural units access varied geographies, coalesce and interact with each other, further allowing the heterogeneous and the cosmopolitan society to imbibe the innate chord of binding and brotherhood. It creates a curiosity among Indians to visit other diverse cultures in the respective context and is a positive contributor to tourism and the communities that benefit from tourism. In 2019, during his Independence Day address to the nation when the Prime Minister exhorted fellow Indians to visit at least 15 tourist destinations within India by 2022, he was building on the foundations he had already laid as a part of Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat. The deep synergies and convergence allowed the Ministry of Tourism to conceive of campaigns such as “Dekho Apna Desh”.

Writer is the Union Minister for Tourism, Culture and Development of Northeastern Region

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