By Humra Laeeq
On October 16, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the celebration planned for the birth anniversary of India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel on October 31. The day is commemorated as the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day) and was introduced by the Government of India in 2014. The statement issued by the Home Ministry of India stated, “The National Unity Day will provide an opportunity to reaffirm the inherent strength and resilience of our nation to withstand the actual and potential threats to the unity, integrity and security of our country.”
Vallabhai Patel: Iron man of India
India’s first Home Minister was instrumental in unifying the diverse states of India right after independence. Patel was one of the founding leaders of the Republic of India. He is credited with achieving the union of over 550 independent princely states from 1947-49 by the enforcement of the Independence Act (1947). As a mark of honour, he was named ‘Bismarck of India’. The National Unity Day is a tribute to Sardar Patel, named after his contribution to the union of Indian states.
What lies in store
The theme for 2016 celebrations was ‘Integration of India’. The celebrations include the speech of Prime Minister of India followed by the ‘Run for Unity’. This year, the Prime Minister is expected to offer floral tributes on the statue of Patel and administer the pledge, flagging off the Run for Unity. The Run for Unity will be a 1.5 km run in Delhi starting from National Stadium. Prominent sports personalities like P.V. Sindhu, Mitali Raj and Sardar Singh will be honouring the run through their participation.
Apart from national personalities, the state has encouraged school and college students to take part in the events following the National Unity Day. The number of attendees last year is expected to rise from the 15,000 recorded last year. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has invited Chief Ministers and Ministers of the Union Government as well.
The other side of the story
It appears that the National Unity Day has connotations further than those suggested by the State. What is sidestepped is the fact that the date is also the death anniversary of India’s first and only female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Gandhi was one of the legendary leaders of Congress government during the 1980s and a direct rival of the BJP government. Sardar Patel, on the other hand, seems to be a political favourite of the BJP politicians. Leading up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, Modi invoked Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Morarji Desai in all their glory. He also simultaneously accused the Nehru-Gandhi family of slighting them. BJP MP Amit Shah mentioned in a blog, “India remembers Sardar Patel for the territorial integration of our nation; through initiatives starting from the Jan Dhan Yojana to the GST, Narendra Bhai has set the ball rolling for the economic integration of India”.
The State’s decision to selectively celebrate a leader and liken his policies to those initiated by the Prime Minister seems to serve to further the party’s own propaganda. The contrarian view discusses the ignorance attached to the National Unity Day. It remains a selective celebration limited to the preferences of those heading the nation in the name of ‘unity’.
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