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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, paying tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on his death anniversary, hailed him as the “iron man” who laid the foundation for a strong and prosperous India.

He said in a tweet that the path shown by him will always inspire us to protect the nation’s unity, integrity, and sovereignty.

Patel, a freedom fighter who became India’s first home minister and deputy prime minister, is credited with unifying the Union of India with hundreds of princely states after independence through a mixture of persuasion, dialogue and if necessary, even the use of force.

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The prime minister often expressed his deep admiration and respect for him and was the brain behind Gujarat’s Statue of Unity project, a tribute to Patel, who died in 1950.