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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A tribute to Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji
February 21, 2024

Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji attained Samadhi and left us all saddened. His life is a spiritually rich epoch graced with profound wisdom, boundless compassion and an unwavering commitment to uplift humanity. I have had the honour of receiving his blessings on numerous occasions. Thus, I feel a deep sense of loss, akin to losing a guiding light that has illuminated the path for countless souls, including myself. His warmth, affection and blessings were not just gestures of goodwill but profound transmissions of spiritual energy, empowering and inspiring all those fortunate enough to have come in contact with him.

Pujya Acharya Ji will always be remembered as a Triveni of wisdom, compassion and service. He was a true Tapasvi, whose life epitomised the ideals of Bhagwan Mahavir. His life exemplified the core principles of Jainism, embodying its ideals through his own actions and teachings. His care towards all living beings mirrored Jainism's profound respect for life. He lived a life of truthfulness, reflecting Jainism's emphasis on honesty in thought, word, and deed. He also led a very simple lifestyle. It is due to stalwarts like him that the world continues to be inspired by Jainism and the life of Bhagwan Mahavir. He stood tall among the Jain community but his impact and influence were not limited to only one community. People across faiths, regions and cultures came to him and he worked tirelessly towards spiritual awakening, particularly among the youth.

Education was an area very close to his heart. His journey from Vidhyadhar (his childhood name) to Vidhyasagar was one of deep commitment to acquiring and imparting knowledge. It was his firm belief that education is the cornerstone of a just and enlightened society. He championed the cause of knowledge as a means to empower individuals, enabling them to lead lives of purpose and contribution. His teachings emphasised the importance of self-study and self-awareness as the pathways to true wisdom, urging his followers to engage in lifelong learning and spiritual growth.

At the same time, Sant Shiromani Acharya Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji wanted our youngsters to get an education that is also rooted in our cultural ethos. He often said that it was because we drifted away from the learnings of the past that we were not able to find solutions to key challenges like water scarcity. He also believed that a holistic education is one that focusses on skilling and innovating. He took immense pride in India’s linguistic diversity and encouraged youngsters to learn Indian languages.

Pujya Acharya Ji himself wrote extensively in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Hindi. The heights he reached as a saint, and how grounded he was on the earth, is seen clearly in his iconic work Mookmati. Through his works, he gave a voice to the downtrodden.

In the domain of healthcare too, Pujya Acharya Ji’s contributions were transformative. He was associated with several efforts, especially in underserved areas. His approach to healthcare was holistic, integrating physical well-being with spiritual wellness, thereby addressing the needs of the person as a whole.

I would especially urge the coming generations to study extensively about Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji’s commitment to nation building. He would always urge people to rise above any partisan considerations and instead focus on national interest. He was one of the strongest votaries of voting because he saw it as an expression of participation in democratic processes. He advocated healthy as well as clean politics, even saying that policy making has to be about people’s welfare, not self interest (Lokneeti is about Loksangrah not Lobhsangrah).

He believed that a strong nation is built on the foundation of its citizens' commitment to their duties—towards themselves, their families, society, and the country. He encouraged individuals to cultivate virtues such as honesty, integrity and self-reliance, which he saw as essential for the creation of a just, compassionate, and thriving society. This emphasis on duties is of great importance as we work towards building a Viksit Bharat.

In an era where environmental degradation is rampant world over, Pujya Acharya Ji called for a way of life which would minimise the harm being inflicted on nature. Likewise, he saw a paramount role for agriculture in our economy, also stressing on making agriculture modern as well as sustainable. His work towards reforming jail inmates was also noteworthy.

The beauty of our land is that for thousands of years, our soil has produced greats who have shown light to others and made our society better. Pujya Acharya Ji stands as a towering figure in this illustrious lineage of saints and social reformers. Whatever he did, he did not just for the present but also the future. In November last year, I had the opportunity to visit the Chandragiri Jain Mandir in Dongargarh in Chhattisgarh. Little did I know that this visit would be my last meeting with Pujya Acharya Ji. Those moments were very special. He spoke to me for a long time, blessing me for my efforts in serving the nation. He expressed joy on the direction our nation is taking and the respect India is getting on the world stage. He was filled with enthusiasm while talking about the work he was doing. Then and always, his gentle gaze and serene smile were enough to instill a sense of peace and purpose. His blessings felt like a soothing balm on the soul, a reminder of the divine presence within and around us.

Sant Shiromani Acharya Shri 108 Vidhyasagar Ji Maharaj Ji’s void is deeply felt by all who knew him and were touched by his teachings and his life. However, he lives on in the hearts and minds of those he inspired. In honouring his memory, we commit to embodying the values he espoused. In this way, we not only pay tribute to a great soul but also take forward his mission for our country and people.