In 1917, Patel was a successful barrister at the peak of his career. Dressed in fashionably cut suits, his days were busy defending his clients in the courtroom and the evenings were spent in the elite company of the members of the Gujarat Club in Ahmedabad where Patel enjoyed playing bridge and smoking his cigars. This proud and successful lawyer did not think much about a man called Gandhi who suddenly appeared to be in the limelight after having returned from South Africa. Patel called Gandhi a 'crank' when he first heard of his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha and scoffed at his ideas.
One day Gandhi was invited to the Gujarat Club. Throngs of people crowed around to see him. Patel did not give Gandhi any attention and continued to be seated at his bridge table annoyed with the movement of people past his table. When a friend asked Patel to join the others in listening to Gandhi, Patel sarcastically remarked 'I can tell you what he'll say. He will ask if you know how to sift pebbles from wheat. And that is supposed to bring independence.' But the scoffing was soon to give way to intrigue and the sarcasm was soon to turn into deep respect.
In April 1917, Gandhi lent his support to workers of the indigo plantation in Champaran in Bihar. There, Gandhi organized a satyagraha for the peasants who were suppressed by the forceful plantation of indigo which were later forcibly bought at low prices. A famine had further added to the misery of the farmers. This satyagraha in Champaran had a profound effect on Patel. Subsequent to this event, Gandhi was invited to be the President of the Gujarat Sabha. Patel who was on the Executive Committee of the Sabha concurred immediately with the suggestion.
Coming to Gujarat, Gandhi took charge of a satyagraha in Kheda protesting on behalf of the peasants there. Patel was given the position of second-in-command in this campaign by Gandhi. In this manner began the life-long association between Gandhi and Patel
Over the years, Patel became one of Gandhi's most ardent followers and satyagrahis.