The 5th Run for Unity was held on October 31st, 2017 on Rashtriya Ekta Diwas, India’s National Unity Day. . As a catalyst for national integration, it once again activated India’s youth and society in an engaging initiative that set the tone for a New India. The Run for Unity’s enduring impact instills actionable pride in being Indian, discovering and exploring India, and in embracing India’s diversity. It is through these steps that Unity in Diversity will truly be understood and widely popularized. The run is also the camaraderie-building start to a day each year that celebrates the birth anniversary of the man who is the symbol and architect of India’s unity- Sardar Patel.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is widely embraced, in the words of the President of India, as India's Man of Iron, Integrity and of Integration. The first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Independent India, Sardar Patel is credited with integrating a united India at the time of Independence. In Sardar Patel’s own words, ‘Manpower without Unity is not a strength unless it is harmonized and united properly, then it becomes a spiritual power.’
The goal for the Run for Unity is to spread the message of national unity and have it permeate to every part of the nation and the society. The first ever Run for Unity took place on 15th Dec, 2013, the 63rd death anniversary of Sardar Patel. The run witnessed approximately 30 lakh people participating in over 1100 locations across India. Subsequently, since 2014 the run has been taking place each year on 31st October, Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary. Many lakhs of people pan-India have participated in the run each year, and this year’s participation increased radically as the states became actively involved, right down to the districts and tehsil levels.
Supported enthusiastically by both former and current sports icons including Sports Minister Rajyavardan Rathore, Olympian Gymnast Dipa Karmikar, cricketer Suresh Raina and many others, the run emphasizes the role of sports and wholesome activity in shaping India’s youth. Running is a unifying and healthy activity that galvanizes every age demographic. The fact that many lakhs of Indians across the entire country’s landscape took part together in an activity that exemplifies a healthy lifestyle change, prevention of health-related illnesses, and a spirit of camaraderie in a cause that celebrates the birth of India’s Iron Man and India’s unity is a cause that emotionally ties together every Indian.
Run for Unity is the focal point for numerous community and unity-building initiatives that harmonize and celebrate the unity in diversity of India. Each year’s Run for Unity has showcased initiatives that are integral to the Prime Minister’s vision of harmonizing the nation through synergies, and broadening the public horizons by learning and experiencing more of India and all it has to offer.
In a coordinated engagement pan-India, the Ministry of Sports organized the run this year in 623 districts with the help of 12 regional centres of the Sports Authority of India and the Nehru Yuvak Kendra. Across the country, initiatives were organized across initiatives as diverse as the Government of Gujarat planning a Grameen Olympics at Olpad Village, Surat and the Government of Uttarakhand planning a yoga session in Rishikesh. In Jammu the run began from Satwari Chowk at 7:30 a.m. and proceeded towards the MAM Stadium.
There are key initiatives that are linked intricately to the Run for Unity ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat,’ ‘Paryatan Parv’, and the engaging of the youth in healthy activity along the Swachh Bharat philosophy. In his address on the 31st of October 2016, the Prime Minister announced the launch of the ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’ scheme for later that day and the scheme was introduced shortly thereafter. He also announced a permanent digital museum based on Sardar Patel’s life near Pragati Maidan, and later that day it was inaugurated. He also highlighted then how it is the feeling of “Indian-ness” that binds 125 crore people together. It is to support this feeling that many of the initiatives were successfully launched. The Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat vision is to enhance States’ engagement with each other in a more structured manner.
A critical move to further the interaction and knowledge exchange between culturally and linguistically distinct states, this initiative has paired states and encouraged activities to promote interaction. Partnered states will commence activities such as the translation of award winning books and songs into each other’s’ languages, exposure to students of alphabets, songs, proverbs and 100 sentences in the languages of the partnering states, reciprocal educational tours by university students, the promotion of Rajya Darshan programs for tourists from partnering states, and even organizing of cycling expeditions for each other’s students or residents. Encouragingly, every state and UT is participating in this landmark scheme.
Following the major thrust on ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’ during the PM’s Run for Unity speeches, there has also been a beneficial impact on domestic tourism. This is apparent in the impact on domestic tourism by Indians. In 2016 the number of domestic tourist visits to the States and Union Territories was 1653 million (provisional) as compared to 1432 million in 2015 registering a sizeable growth of 15.5 %. Besides, the Ministry of Tourism has launched the Paryatan Parv, a nation-wide scheme that showcases the importance of discovering India organized for the first time from the 5th to 25th October 2017. It has the objective of drawing focus on the benefits of tourism, highlighting India’s cultural diversity and reinforcing the “Tourism for All” principle. Expanding on the broad-based engagement through running, tourism runs, Incredible India! runs and Go Heritage runs have been organized during this period from Gurdaspur to Port Blair and at various locations in between.
The Run for Unity emphasizes the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle and its basis is in future outcomes with mass participation pan-India. It is a key step towards the vision and attainment of a unified, aware and brand new India. It is a celebration of India’s remarkable unity in diversity and a tribute to the great man to whom every Indian owes this unity- Sardar Patel.
(The author is Public Policy Consultant (Governance and Research), NITI Aayog.)
Disclaimer: NITI blogs do not represent the views of either the Government of India or NITI Aayog. They are intended to stimulate healthy debate and deliberation