India on Saturday observed 'National Unity Day' to commemorate the 145th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, with the President, the prime minister and a host of other dignitaries recalling his 'iron-willed leadership and patriotism' and paying rich tributes to him.
A series of events were held across the country to mark the day and government officials, security personnel and others took a pledge 'to preserve the unity, integrity and security of the nation and also strive hard to spread this message'.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah paid floral tributes to Patel, the first deputy prime minister and home minister who is credited with unifying the country post Independence.
While the PM offered flowers at the 'Statue of Unity' monument in Kevadiya in Gujarat, the others paid tributes at his statue located at Patel Chowk in Delhi.
On the occasion, Prime Minister Modi also launched a seaplane service between the Statue of Unity and Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad.
He also addressed probationary civil servants and said Sardar Patel used to call bureaucrats the 'steel frame'.
"The role of a steel frame is not just to support the system, but also to remind the country that they will fulfil the responsibility of taking the country forward successfully amid big crisis and difficulties like a facilitator," Modi said.
"I would also request that whatever decision a civil servant takes should be in the national interest and aimed at strengthening the unity and sovereignty of the country and keeping India's constitutional spirit high," the prime minister said.
In a social media post, Vice President Naidu said his fervent wish was to make every child familiar with the life and contribution of Patel.
'Similarly every civil servant must read his speeches and every politician must imbibe Patel's great qualities like integrity, firmness and keeping people's interest at heart,' he said.
'His love for motherland, leadership qualities, simplicity, honesty, integrity, down-to-earth nature, pragmatic approach to resolving knotty problems, earthly wisdom, discipline, and organising skills will always remain an inspiration for every Indian,' he said.
Naidu recalled that Patel earned the reputation of 'Iron Man' because of the manner in which he brought about and maintained internal stability as the home minister in the wake of the Partition.
In a series of tweets in Hindi, Shah said the country's first home minister is an epitome of national unity and lives in the heart of every Indian.
He said Sardar Patel united the nation post Independence, which was scattered in hundreds of princely states, and laid the foundation of today's strong India.
'The country can never forget his great contribution, decisive leadership and unparalleled commitment towards the motherland,' he said.
The home minister also said that from uniting India to reconstruction of the Somnath Temple, Sardar Patel devoted each and every moment of his life, for the unity and integration of the country.
'Iron willed leadership, devotion and patriotism of Sardar Patel ji will continue to guide us.
'On behalf of a grateful nation, I pay my respects to Sardar Patel, a great patriot and Iron Man of India,' he said.
Later, Shah also administered the 'National Unity Day' pledge to government officials, security personnel and others.
'I solemnly pledge that I dedicate myself to preserve the unity, integrity and security of the nation and also strive hard to spread this message among my fellow countrymen.
'I take this pledge in the spirit of unification of my country which was made possible by the vision and actions of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. I also solemnly resolve to make my own contribution to ensure the internal security of my country,' read the pledge.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and New Delhi MP Meenakashi Lekhi were also present on the occasion.
The Centre observes October 31 across the country as a day to foster and reinforce the government's dedication to preserve and strengthen the unity, integrity and security of the nation by celebrating it as the 'Rashtriya Ekta Diwas' or 'National Unity Day' to commemorate Patel's birth anniversary.
The Narendra Modi government has been observing Patel's birth anniversary as the 'Rashtriya Ekta Diwas' since 2014.
Patel was born on October 31, 1875 in Gujarat's Nadiad.
He is credited for the merger of over 560 princely states into the Union of India.
As part of Patel's birth anniversary celebrations, various programmes are being organised across the country, recalling his contribution to the unification of India.
Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra called Patel the 'architect of new India'.
By merging princely states into the Indian Union, Patel presented a unique example of 'Akhand Bharat' worldwide, Mishra said.
To mark the day, Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath unveiled a statue of Patel at the Raj Bhawan in Lucknow and paid glowing tributes to him.
"The British thought that despite Independence, a united India would not take shape as there were 562 states and their rulers were not ready to give up.
"But it was the impact of Sardar Patel's personality that gradually the rulers of these states relented and a united India started taking shape," the Governor said.