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The first half of 1947 was a critical period in India’s history. The end of colonial rule was certain and so was India’s Partition, but what was uncertain was whether there would be more than one division. Prices were rising, food shortages were common but over and above everything else, the unity of India was under severe strain.

It was in these circumstances that the States Department came into being in June 1947. Among the chief aims of this department was to give impetus and top priority to negotiations vis-à-vis India’s relationship with the over 550 princely states, which were as diverse as they could get, be it in size, population, terrain or economic situation. No wonder Mahatma Gandhi remarked, “The problem of the states is so difficult that YOU alone can solve it.”

In vintage Sardar Patel style, he went about his work with precision, firmness and administrative efficiency. Time was less and the task was herculean … but this was no ordinary person, it was Sardar Patel, who was determined not to let his nation down. One by one, he and his team negotiated with the princely states and ensured that they all became a part of free India.

Illustration: Ajit Ninan

It was due to round-the-clock effort of Sardar Patel that the map of India is what it is today!

Once freedom was won, VP Menon, it is said, wanted to retire from government service, only to be told by Sardar Patel that this was neither the time to rest nor the time to retire. Such was Sardar Patel’s firm resolve. VP Menon was made the Secretary of the States Department. In his book ‘The Story of the Integration of Indian States’, he writes about how Sardar Patel led from the front and inspired the entire team to work assiduously. He also writes that Sardar Patel was clear – first and foremost came the interests of the people of India, there would be no compromise on that.

On August 15, 1947, we celebrated the dawn of a new destiny but the work of nation building was far from complete. As independent India’s first home minister, he set the stage for an administrative framework that continues to serve the nation be it in matters of day to day governance or protecting the interests of the people, particularly the poor and marginalised.

Sardar Patel was a veteran administrator. His own experience in governance, particularly in the 1920s when he served the Ahmedabad municipality, was extremely handy when he worked towards strengthening independent India’s administrative framework. While in Ahmedabad, he did commendable work in furthering cleanliness in the city. He ensured clean and functioning drainage systems across the city. He also focussed on other aspects of urban infrastructure such as roads, electricity and education.

Today, if India is known for a vibrant cooperative sector, a large part of the credit goes to Sardar Patel. The roots of Amul can be traced back to his vision for empowering local communities, particularly women. It was Sardar Patel who also popularised the idea of cooperative housing societies, thus ensuring dignity and shelter for many.

Two traits synonymous with Sardar Patel are trust and integrity. The farmers of India had unparalleled faith in him. After all, he was a kisan putra, who led from the front during the Bardoli satyagraha. The working class saw him as a ray of hope, a leader who would speak up for them. Traders and industrialists preferred to work with Sardar Patel because they felt here was a stalwart who had a vision for India’s economic and industrial growth.

His political peers too trusted him. Acharya Kripalani remarked that whenever they faced an issue and if Bapu’s guidance was not available, they would turn to Sardar Patel. When political negotiations were at their peak in 1947, Sarojini Naidu called him “the man of decision and man of action”. Everyone trusted him, his words and his actions. Sardar Patel continues to be respected across caste, creed, faith, age!

This year’s Sardar Jayanti is even more special. With the blessings of 130 crore Indians, the Statue of Unity is being inaugurated today. Situated on the banks of the Narmada, the ‘Statue of Unity’ is the tallest in the world. ‘Dharti Putra’ Sardar Patel will stand tall in the skies, to guide us and inspire us.

I congratulate all those who have worked day and night to ensure that this grand statue in tribute of Sardar Patel becomes a reality. My mind goes back to October 31, 2013, when we laid the foundation stone for this ambitious project. In record time, a project of such scale has become ready and this should make every Indian proud. I urge you all to visit the Statue of Unity in the times to come.

The Statue of Unity is a symbol of both the unity of hearts and the geographical integrity of our motherland. It is a reminder that divided, we may not be even able to face ourselves. United, we can face the world and scale new heights of growth and glory.

Sardar Patel worked with astonishing speed to dismantle the history of imperialism and create the geography of unity with the spirit of nationalism. He saved India from Balkanisation and integrated even the weakest of limbs into the national framework. Today, we, the 130 crore Indians, are working shoulder to shoulder to build a New India that is strong, prosperous and inclusive. Every decision is being taken to ensure that the fruits of development reach the most vulnerable, without any corruption or favouritism, just as Sardar Patel would have wanted it.

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भारताच्या कोविड लसीच्या 100 कोटी आणि त्यापुढच्याही मात्रांची संख्या हेच दर्शवते की लोक सहभाग काय साध्य करू शकतो
October 22, 2021
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India completed vaccination of 100 crore doses on October 21 in about nine months since starting vaccination. The journey from anxiety in early 2020 to assurance has happened, and India has emerged stronger, thanks to the world's largest vaccination drive.

It has been a truly Herculean, bhagirath effort involving multiple sections of society. For any effort to attain and sustain speed and scale, trust of all stakeholders is crucial. One reason for a successful campaign was the trust that people developed in the vaccine and the process followed, despite various efforts to create mistrust and panic. There are some who only trust foreign brands. However, when it came to something as crucial as the Covid-19 vaccine, Indians unanimously trusted

'Made in India' vaccines. This is a significant paradigm shift.

All for One, and One for All

India's vaccine drive is an example of what India can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal in the spirit of people's participation, or jan bhagidari. Initially, many doubted the capabilities of 130 crore Indians. Some said India would take 3-4 years, while others doubted people coming forward to get vaccinated. There were those who said there will be gross mismanagement and chaos, while others doubted India's ability to manage supply chains.But just like the 2020 national lockdown - janta curfew - and subsequent lockdowns, the people showed how spectacular the results can be if made trusted partners.

When everyone takes ownership, nothing is impossible. There was a lot of pressure from different interest groups to give preferential treatment to them in vaccination. But GoI ensured that there is no VIP culture in the vaccination drive.

In early 2020, it was clear to us that this pandemic will have to be eventually fought with the help of vaccines. We started preparing early. We constituted expert groups and started preparing a roadmap right from April 2020. Till today, only a handful of countries have developed their own vaccines. More than 180 countries are dependent on an extremely limited pool of producers, and dozens of nations are still waiting for the supply of vaccines.

Imagine if India did not have its own vaccine. How would India have secured enough vaccines for such a large population? How many years would that have taken? It is here that credit should be given to Indian scientists and entrepreneurs for rising to the occasion. It is due to their talent and hard work that India is truly aatmanirbhar when it comes to vaccines. Our vaccine manufacturers, by scaling up to meet the demands of such a large population, have shown that they are second to none.

GoI has been an accelerator and enabler of progress. It partnered with vaccine-makers right from day one, and gave them support in the form of institutional assistance, scientific research, funding, as well as accelerated regulatory processes. All ministries came together to facilitate and remove any bottlenecks as a result of the 'whole of government' approach.

In a country of the scale of India, it is not enough to just produce. Focus has to be on last-mile delivery and seamless logistics. To understand the challenges involved, imagine the journey taken by one vial of vaccines. From a plant in Pune or Hyderabad, the vial is sent to a hub in any of the states, from where it is transported to the district hub. From there, it reaches a vaccination centre. This entails the deployment of thousands of trips taken by flights and trains. During this entire journey, the temperature has to be maintained in a particular range that is centrally monitored.

We are the Nation

For this, over 1 lakh cold-chain equipments were utilised. States were given advance notice of the delivery schedule of the vaccines so that they could plan their drives better and vaccines reached them on the pre-decided days. This has been an unprecedented effort in the history of independent India.

All these efforts were complemented by a robust tech platform in CoWIN. It ensured that the vaccine drive was equitable, scalable, trackable and transparent. This ensured that there was no scope for favouritism or jumping the queue. It also ensured that a poor worker could take first dose in his village and the second dose of the same vaccine in the city where he works, after the required time interval. In addition to a real-time dashboard to boost transparency, the QR (quick response)-coded certificates ensured verifiability. There are hardly any examples of such efforts not only in India but also the world.

In my 2015 Independence Day address, I had said that our country is moving ahead because of 'Team India', and this 'Team India' is a big team of our 130 crore people. People's participation is the biggest strength of democracy. If we run the country through the participation of 130 crore Indians, our country will be moving ahead 130 crore steps every moment. Our vaccination drive has yet again showed the power of this 'Team India'. India's success in its vaccination drive has also demonstrated to the whole world that 'democracy can deliver'.

The success achieved in the world's largest vaccination drive should further spur our youth, our innovators and all levels of government to set new benchmarks of public service delivery that will be a model not only for our country, but also for the world.