Rashtriya Ekta Diwas: The Idea of United India

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Rashtriya Ekta Diwas is observed on 31st October in India and is also known as National Unity Day. The day commemorates the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In 2019, the 144th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is celebrated. He played an important role in uniting India. He is also famous as an Iron Man of India.

In 2014, the Government of India introduced Rashtriya Ekta Diwas with an aim to pay tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on his birth anniversary. He is always remembered for his extraordinary works for the country and no doubt, he worked hard in keeping India united.

Rashtriya Ekta Diwas was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, by paying tribute to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's statue and flagging of a program which was known as 'Run For Unity' in New Delhi. Run for unity was held to spread awareness about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's contribution to Indian history.

Present-day India is seen as diverse and united and the credit goes to the extraordinary visionary that was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the indomitable man who integrated 562 princely states with the Union of India and prevented the Balkanisation of the newly independent country.

Back in 1947, India had finally gained hard-fought independence, but it had come with besetting problems- partition, communal riots, and a refugee crisis. Add to that crippling resource constraint, fledgling institutions, and ill-equipped colonial machinery and it is not difficult to understand why India’s new government found the integration of more than 500 princely states a tough nut to crack.

Patel, India’s first deputy prime minister and the minister of home affairs, would not just handle these problems with deftness and dexterity but would go on to truly become the ‘Architect of Modern India’.

Having made his mark in the Kheda and Bardoli Satyagrahas (during which he earned the title of ‘Sardar’), by 1946, Vallabhbhai Patel had already become one of the most popular leaders of the freedom struggle. Stoic and simple in his habits, he was a man of few words but when he did talk, people listened.

This is why he was given the formidable task of integrating the princely states as India’s first deputy prime minister and home minister. With the swiftness of a military commander and skill of an innate diplomat, he got to work, ably assisted by V.P. Menon (then the Constitutional Adviser to Lord Mountbatten and later, the secretary of the Ministry of the States).

Back then, the princely states covered 48% of the area of pre-Independent India and constituted 28% of its population. While these kingdoms were not legally a part of British India, in reality, they were completely subordinate to the British Crown.

The Indian Independence Act of 1947 (based on the Mountbatten Plan) provided for the lapse of the paramountcy of the British Crown over the Indian states. It also gave each of these rulers the option to accede to the newly born dominions India or Pakistan or continue as an independent sovereign state.

Realising the need to get these 500-odd chiefdoms to accede to India before the day of independence, Patel and Menon began using all the tricks in the bag- including the use of both force and friendly advice to achieve their integration with the Indian dominion.

But the process was far from simple. Mollycoddled as well as exploited by the British for decades, many of the rulers saw the departure of the British as the ideal moment to declare autonomy and announce their independent statehood on the world map.

However, the brilliant team of Patel (who laid out the framework) and Menon (who did the actual groundwork) persevered.