At the time of Independence, Patel was 72. Before he took up the task of Accession and Integration of the Princely States, his health had begun deteriorating and he had been advised to take complete rest. Yet, as a member of the first Cabinet of free India, he readily took charge of three ministries - Home, States and Information. In addition to this, he was also Deputy Prime Minister of India. During this period, whenever Nehru travelled abroad, Patel also shouldered the responsibility of being Acting Prime Minister. When V.P. Menon, Secretary of the States Department conveyed to Patel at the time of independence that having achieved the dream of freedom, he would have liked to retire, Patel said to him that this was no time to rest or retire as the young nation needed his services. Patel too kept aside concerns of advancing age and ill-health to rise to the challenge of building a strong independent India.
In addition to these responsibilities as a Minister, Patel was also a member of the Constituent Assembly that was preparing a draft Constitution for the nascent nation. In this connection, he was the Chairman of the Minorities sub-committee of the Assembly and he was concerned with abolishing the many differences that existed between the various people of India seeking that they all unite as a single community of Indians.
As Minister in charge of the States Department, Patel shouldered the monumental task of bringing together 565 princely states and integrating their administration, their military and systems into the Union of India. He travelled extensively to meet with the rajas and nawabs, conducted dozens of meetings for negotiations and wrote hundreds of letters. On one such trip to Jaipur, his plane met with an accident and Patel had a narrow escape.
The death of Gandhi, his mentor and guide, in January 1948 came as a deep shock to Patel. He suffered a heart attack in March 1948. Upon regaining consciousness soon thereafter, Patel said 'I was on my way to Bapu. Why did you stop me?' underlying his deep attachment to Gandhi. After that, he would be heard saying ' Well, I know the final call is coming to join Bapu but I must work while I can for the country.In November 1950, Patel fell severely ill from an intestinal disorder and high blood pressure. He was flown to Bombay for further treatment where his daughter Maniben nursed him with great devotion. But he suffered a stroke and on the early hours of 15th December, 1950, the Iron Man of India closed his eyes for the last time. The President of India, Rajendra Prasad, the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and many other leaders flew into Bombay for Patel's funeral where a six mile long procession awaited to pay homage to one of India's tallest leaders. The last rites were performed by Dahyabhai, Patel's son in the crematorium in Queens Road in Bombay.
'What inspiration, courage, confidence and force incarnate Vallabhbhai was! We will not see the like of him again' said C. Rajagopalachari paying a fitting tribute to the Iron Man of India. Maulana Azad spoke of Patel's valour as high as the mountains and his determination as strong as steel.
'History' said Nehru speaking of Sardar, 'will call him the builder and consolidator of the new India'.