On December 15, 2020 it would be the seventieth Punyatithi – death anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Sardar Patel steered the merger of more than five hundred and fifty princely states into the Union of India after the country's freedom from Britain on August 15, 1947.
This mammoth task could be possible on the basis of a high and matured political approach led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel based on unity, integrity, prosperity and security of the country. Further, he could accomplish this by getting his compatriots to realise their duties towards the country.
Along with the merger of the states into the Indian Union covering an area of approximately six lakh square miles, Patel managed the exchange of lakhs of people and made arrangements for relief and rehabilitation of lakhs of refugees who came from Pakistan into India after the partition. He reminded his compatriots of their duties and called on them repeatedly to discharge responsibilities for the safety and welfare of one and all. With regard to discharging duties, Sardar’s message to the people of the country through his public address at Cuttack, Odisha, on December 14, 1947 was important and meaningful. He stated, “We have achieved Swaraj and we have to reap the fruits of it.” He had added, “India is now free and independent…with united will and hard work (taking it as your foremost duty) you will make the country prosperous…you should (now) all sink your differences and work hard in common interest.”
Soon after the independence of India a serious problem had arisen in the process of the exchange of population in east Punjab. A large group of people was going towards Pakistan from India and was suddenly stopped in Amritsar, which also created a great danger for lakhs of refugees coming to India from other side. Sardar Vallabhbhai Parel visited Amritsar. The same day, on September 30, 1947 in a public meeting he called on people to be tolerant.
In his address, Patel said, “We have won our freedom to make our country great and prosperous, not to destroy what little has been vouchsafed to us by our alien rulers. If we are not careful, we shall lose even our long-cherished freedom, which we have secured after such suffering and so many struggles. You must remember that lives of millions are at stake; they cannot be gambled away to enable us to satisfy any spirit of vengeance or retaliation. It is essential that you must maintain peace and break the vicious circle of attack and retaliation and counter-retaliation and see to it that the refugees have safe transit.” He added, “To fight against the refugees is no fight at all. No laws of humanity or war among honourable men permit the murder of people who have sought shelter and protection…you (should, therefore) act with prudence and foresight.”
He had specifically appealed to the citizens to be tolerant, one of the basics of Indianness and throw in their weight for the maintenance of peace in the interest of millions of men, women and children and focus to protect the unity and solidarity of the country.
After independence, India had a number of critical problems. Along with building the unity of the country, there were challenges like maintaining law and order, restructuring the civil services and securing the country from internal and external threats. The role of Patel in forging national unity and promoting public interest established him as an important figure in modern India.
*A Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National Awardee Indologist Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal.