Standing against the backdrop of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat’s Kevadia, an emotional Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday condoled the deaths resulting from Sunday’s bridge collapse in Morbi and declared that the government will leave no stone unturned in carrying out the relief and rescue operations

He was speaking at the National Unity Day programme held to commemorate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s birth anniversary. Starting his speech with Sunday night’s tragedy, the PM said Patel’s decisiveness and focus were an inspiration in such difficult times.

“I am in Ekta Nagar, but my mind is focused on the victims of Morbi. Only rarely in life would I have experienced such pain. On one side is a heart full of hurt and on the other, there is the path of duty and work,” he said.

The PM also underlined how the country stood as one when disaster strikes in any part of the country. Unity was a recurring theme in his speech.

“A sense of unity is so deep-rooted in the mind of every citizen, we often don’t appreciate this special aspect. But whenever there is a natural disaster that befalls this country, the entire population stands as one,” he said.

“Whether the disaster is in the north or the south, east or the west doesn’t matter. All of India stands together. Look at yesterday. There was an incident at Morbi. After that, everyone in the country is praying for those that have fallen victim to the incident. Locals are coming forward to lend support at the site, or at hospitals. This is the power of unity,” he added.

Modi credited the Gujarat government for responding quickly to the news of the collapse. “Chief minister Bhupendra Patel reached the site last night. Since yesterday, he took control of relief and rescue operations. A committee has been made for an enquiry into the mishap. I assure the people of the country that there will be no laxity in relief and rescue.”

“Today, this occasion of National Unity Day gives us the inspiration to stand united, and walk the path of duty. In the most difficult of circumstances, Sardar Patel’s focus and fleet-footedness is a lesson, and we are working and will continue to do so,” he added.

Hailing the achievements of Patel, who was the first home minister of Independent India, the PM said only he could have led the difficult task of reuniting India’s princely states after independence and that there were forces still active in India that worked against its unity, and “presented one language as the enemy of the other.”

PM Modi said the Statue of Unity was a reminder that free India would have looked very different if Patel didn’t play the lead role at the time. “What would have happened if more than 550 kingdoms had not been united? What would have happened if most of our princely states had not shown a sense of sacrifice? If they had not shown faith in Maa Bharati? Today, the India we are seeing, we would not even have been able to imagine. This difficult work, this impossible task, only and only Sardar Patel did,” Modi said.

Later in his speech, he also announced the establishment of a museum to commemorate the sacrifice of India’s princely states at Ekta Nagar in Kevadia.

Modi said that it was the sense of unity that made it possible for India to stand against the assault of foreign invaders, but warned that people unhappy with the country’s rise “exist even today”.

“The country is still suffering from the after-effects of the poison that was spread by invaders. Therefore, we have seen the Partition, and have seen India’s enemies take advantage of it. So today, we have to be very careful. Like before, powers that are unhappy with India’s rise exist even today,” he said.

“They are trying to break us, divide us, even today. To separate us by castes, they employ different narratives. There are attempts to divide us on the basis of states. Often to present one Indian language as the enemy of another Indian language, campaigns are launched. History is presented in a way that we are not united, but stay far away from each other,” the PM added.

He also cautioned that these divisive forces were not always “open enemies”.

“Sometimes, they arrive at our doors through appeasement. Sometimes through nepotism, sometimes through corruption and greed. This divides and weakens the country. We have to respond to them as Indians, we have to stay united, stay together. This is the strength of new India,” he said.

An outreach to tribals, who constitute about 14.75% of the state’s population according to the state tribal development department website, formed an important part of PM Modi’s outreach in his speech ahead of state elections due this year.

In his speech, the PM referred to both Mangarh Dham, a site which saw a massacre of tribals in 1913 — and is often referred to as the ‘Adivasi Jallianwallah Bagh’ — and Jambughoda, a site of a tribal uprising in 1857. He was said he was going to visit both places.

“In the past eight years, the country has prioritised those communities that have been left out in the decades since Independence. Therefore, the Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas (November 15) was started. In several states, museums are being made to canonise the roles of tribals in the freedom struggle. I am going to Mangarh and will go to Jambughoda after that. It is important that people know the importance of these places. Only then will youngsters learn the price we paid for freedom,” the PM said.

By Shadab

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