Being honest is a great quality; no one can deny it. But today if people in public life practice pure honesty, this should be considered as something extraordinary. Not only this, if someone sets an example of honesty then he ought to be a great personality. Sardar Patel was a great man of this order.
Vallabhbhai Patel remained the treasurer of the Indian National Congress lifelong. After the death of Jamnalal Bajaj, it was he who took this responsibility and operated the funds of the Congress Party. Therefore, the party funds always remained with him. In money-related matters, his honesty is unquestionable; still, in this regard I would like to present an example here.
But prior to it, I would also like to mention that he used to spend a big part of his salary, which he received as Union Minister, in activities related to public welfare. Perhaps a few may be aware today that being the Deputy Prime Minister of India, he had a great influence upon the Congress Organization and he solved most problems of the Party. Therefore, he regularly used to talk to the chiefs of provincial Congress committees on phone; he discussed issues with other leaders also. But he always paid the telephone bill from his own pocket. As such almost half of his salary he got as a Union Minister was spent on it. Such was the Sardar.
Now coming to the main point. Sardar Patel died on December 15, 1950 in Mumbai. And three days before, on December 12, he bid adieu to Delhi forever. When Sardar Patel was ready to depart from his official Delhi residence, 1, Aurangzeb Road, to Mumbai, he called his daughter Manibehn [who while remaining unmarried worked for the nation, participated in the struggle for freedom and took care of the Sardar when he in spite of his poor health was busy in the work of nation building] and said, “Mani, this is a box. Whatever is there in it belongs to the Congress. If I die, hand it over to Jawaharlal.”
Vallabhbhai passed away. Some days later, after recovering from the shock, Manibehn reached Pandit Nehru and said, “Before his death, my father [the Sardar] instructed me to bring this box to you after his death as this belongs to the Congress. I am here to give this to you, without having opened it.”
The box was opened there in the presence of Manibehn. It is said that there were about 2.8 million rupees in cash in that box. In an interview to this author himself in 1985 Manibehn admitting the reality had said that more than 2 million rupees were there in the box. It was the same money that was later used by the Indian National Congress to contest the first General Elections in 1952. Such was the character and honesty of Vallabhbhai Patel and his daughter.
Some say that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was against the Communists and the Socialists. It is also said that he was a supporter of capitalism and a friend of industrialists. And it is true that many industrialists were his close friends, but can it be believed that such a great man of great virtue and setter of such an example of honesty could have such feelings in him that might not be in the interest of the commonweal?
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was a true follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Who is not aware that Mahatma Gandhi held the principle of non-possession in highest possible order in theory and in practice? Amongst his best followers was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He never claimed that he had accepted the principle of non-possession but rather he used to follow it in his practices. It was he who at the time of his death had no personal house anywhere in India. His whole life was a unique example of honesty in public life; and the example set by him is a lesson to be learnt by all those in public life.