In June 1916, Vallabhbhai Patel was playing bridge and smoking cigars. It used be his favorite pastime at the Gujarat Club along with his friend Chimanlal Thakore.

This club, established in 1888, used to be the stage of intellectuals then. At that time, big industrialists, mill owners, doctors, engineers and some British bureaucrats as well as lawyers practicing in the District and Sessions Court of Ahmedabad used to sit and talk intellectually. The club was then the center of political, cultural and economic affairs in Ahmedabad.

On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi was touring the country after returning from South Africa. At that time, he had set up an ashram in Ahmedabad and thought of keeping the center of freedom fight from here.

Sardar Patel was told in Gujarat club that he should go to listen to Gandhiji.

Patel showed no interest on this, but on the same day the organizer brought Gandhiji to the Gujarat club before the address and it was here that the two great personalities met for the first time.

Gandhi had come to expound his ideas about an Ashram and a national school. As Patel went on with his game, he remarked, “I have been told he (Gandhi) comes from South Africa. Honestly I think he is a crank, and as you know, I have no use for such people.”

Gandhiji talked – and Patel smoked. But slowly Patel got interested as he realized that “this man was not a mere windbag – he was out for action.”

In those early days, Patel himself says that “I was not concerned with his principles or with himsa and ahimsa. All that mattered to me was that he was sincere; that he had dedicated his whole life, and all he had, to the cause he served, that he was possessed with a desire to free his country from bondage, and that he knew his job thoroughly. I wanted nothing more.”

This marked the beginning of a relationship that not only brought a revolutionary change in Vallabhbhai’s life, but was perhaps the greatest single factor responsible for the success of our political struggle.

Gandhi and Patel made a strong team as the Chairman and Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha and they undertook many programs for the welfare of the masses in Gujarat – whether it was to provide relief to the plague affected, or abolition of forced labour or in the no-tax campaign when crops were destroyed in Kaira District. It was at this point that Vallabhbhai gave up his European dress for the dhoti/ kurta outfit and toured the villages of Kaira District along with Gandhiji.

The man who was later to become the Iron Man of India, entertained Gandhi with his cheerful talks and pungent sense of humour. He did not even hesitate to make fun of him. Once while preparing his datan (teeth cleaning twig) he commented “Bapu has only very few teeth left, nevertheless he keeps on brushing them.”