Maniben Patel, the only daughter of Sardar Patel, switched to khadi at a tender age of 16, and started working regularly at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Most of the garments that Sardar Patel wore after 1921 were woven out of the yarn made by Maniben. When just 17, she put all her gold bangles, earrings and other ornaments, gold wrist-watch, and jewels in a bundle of cloth and, after obtaining her father’s nod, deposited them in the cause of freedom at the Gandhi Ashram.

Unlike Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, Maniben was a freedom fighter, who actively participated in the non-cooperation movements. During the Bardoli Satyagraha in 1928, she along with many other ladies helped out in the camps. For her active role in the Salt Satyagraha of 1930 and thereafter she was arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. In January 1932, she was arrested along with Kasturba Gandhi for defying a ban on meetings in Bardoli. She was released in May 1932, but was re-arrested in July 1932 for defying a ban in Kheda, and was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, which she spent in Belgaum jail. For her role in arousing people in the villages in Rajkot she was arrested in December 1938. Gandhi was much impressed with her work, and had remarked that Maniben was showing her mettle; and that he had not seen another daughter like her. During Maniben’s stint in Sabarmati jail, Sardar Patel wrote to her daughter: “Look after all the other women prisoners, and see that they come out braver than when they went in…”.

Under Gandhi’s “Selective Disobedience”, Maniben was arrested in December 1940 and sent to Belgaum jail. Released in May 1941, she again wished to court arrest, but Gandhi stopped her, looking to her frail health. Later, Maniben underwent prolonged imprisonment during the Quit India Movement of 1942. She was arrested along with Kasturba Gandhi in August 1942, and was in detention at the Aga Khan’s Palace in Pune, where Gandhi was lodged. Maniben was released in March 1944. But, she was rearrested in May 1944 in Bardoli in Gujarat, and was sent to Surat jail. From Surat she was sent to Yerwada jail.

The following is based on a telling episode about her described by Balraj Krishna:
Sardar Patel gave up his highly remunerative legal practice when he joined Gandhi in the independence struggle. He kept no property or savings. Even after independence, when he became the Deputy Prime Minister, he and his daughter Maniben continued with their austere life. After a massive heart attack, when Patel was convalescing at the Dehra Dun Circuit House, Mahavir Tyagi visited him.
Incidentally, Mahavir Tyagi (1899–1980) was a well-known parliamentarian from Dehra Dun. He was in the British Indian Army and was posted in Persia when he resigned upon the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 13 April 1919. He was court-martialled in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, and externed from Baluchistan with all pay deposits forfeited. Returning home, Tyagi joined the freedom movement.
Seeing Maniben wearing a Khadi sari with a huge patch sewed over a torn portion, Mahavir Tyagi commented in good humour: “Maniben, you think yourself to be ‘great’, being the daughter of a man who has, within a year, established a far-flung ‘Empire’ [by merging the numerous Princely States]. Not so was [the Empire] of Rama or Krishna, or of Ashoka, Akbar, or of the British! As the daughter of one who is the ‘Sardar’ of big Rajas and Maharajas, don’t you feel ashamed of wearing such a sari?… If you happen to go round my town, people will take you for a beggar and offer you some money.”
Patel, joining in the fun, remarked: “The bazaar is full of people. By evening she will be able to collect a good amount.”
Dr Sushila Nayyar then intervened: “Tyagi, Maniben spends the whole day in looking after Sardar Saheb. Then she has to find time to write her diary and spin yarn on the charkha. Of the yarn thus spun, clothes are stitched for Sardar Saheb, as he doesn’t purchase cloth from Khadi Bhandar. When his dhotis and kurtas are torn, Maniben makes her cloth out of them…”

Maniben didn’t get married, and served her father till his death in 1950. Here is a shocking episode relating to Maniben based on various sources, mainly ‘I too had a dream’, an autobiography of Dr Verghese Kurien of Anand Dairy fame.                                                                                               Sardar Patel’s wife, Jhaverba, had expired back in 1909, and he was being looked after by his daughter, Maniben, who chose not to get married. Maniben was a devoted patriot, and a dedicated Congress worker, who gave her all to the nation, and to the Freedom Struggle. Sardar Patel did not have any bank balances or property. Even though he was earning substantially as a very successful lawyer, once he got into the Freedom Movement, he gave up everything. Sardar was the very example of Gandhian simplicity. He used to say that, “Bapu has told that those in politics should not hold property, and I hold none.” Such were the ideals then. Contrast this with the multi-crorepati leaders of today.

When Sardar Patel expired, he had left nothing for his daughter. With Sardar no more, she had to vacate the house. She was left all alone to fend for herself, with no money and no house. Sardar had instructed her to give a bag and a book to Nehru upon his death.
After Sardar’s death—which happened in Mumbai—Maniben dutifully went to Delhi, took an appointment with Nehru and met him. She handed over to him the bag and the book. It seems the book was an account book, and the bag contained rupees 35 lacs. After having done so, she waited for Nehru to express sympathy, enquire as to what she intended doing, where would she stay, her monetary position, whether she wanted anything, and what he could do for her. But, Nehru showed no interest and said nothing. After some time, she left disappointed.

She returned to Ahmedabad to stay with a cousin. Neither Nehru, nor the Congress Party bothered about her well-being. Such was the fate of the lady who gave her all to the nation and of the daughter of a person who made India what it is today! Contrast this with the Nehru Dynasty, who enjoyed all the fruits, while others had made all the sacrifices.

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