H M Patel was wedded to democracy and possessed liberal outlook. Contrary to the popular perception of H M Patel as an Englishman through and through he read, relished and actively supported publications in the Gujarati language too. It is evidenced in how he promoted and nurtured ‘Nireekshak’, a Gujarati weekly. Though he provided substantial financial help to it the editors enjoyed full freedom in running it. Despite the fact that there were occasions when the periodical would publish articles criticizing the policies of H M Patel’s Swatantra Party not even once did he show his annoyance, displeasure or disagreement. He took this as a natural occurrence. Intellectuals of India might certainly benefit if they study the life of H M Patel in the context of his continuous support to journals like ‘Nireekshak’ and ‘Opinion’. “H M Patel is a living evidence of the basic strength of Indian democracy”, observes Vadilal Dagli, editor of “Commerce” and writer.
As a member on the Advisory Board of ‘Akhandanand’, a leading Gujarati monthly, for a very long time, he saw to it that the publication went on unhindered. He made finance available when for some time its publication was suspended due to lack of funds.
Despite his indefatigable efforts to promote Vallabh Vidyanagar as a model center of education and culture, there were many moments of frustration for the visionary H M Patel. The lukewarm response of teachers to his expectation of pursuit of excellence, inflexibility of government rules and dominance of some political party or group in the decision – making bodies of the university did make the sharp, sensitive and cultured H M Patel unhappy. But all this did not dampen his spirit. Endowed with robust optimism he would be heard saying “Some day, somewhere, something will happen”, observes D. D. Jadeja, former Vice–Chancellor of Sardar Patel University.
Besides leading the Charutar Vidya Mandal and Charutar Arogya Mandal, H M Patel headed several other trusts and institutions too, like Sastu Sahitya Trust, Ahmedabad ; Saraswati Kelavani Mandal, Ahmedabad; Kelavani Mandal, Dharmaj; Gujarat Education Society, New Delhi; Observatory, Ahmedabad; Lotus Hospital, Bombay and Lotus Ayurvedic Research and Hospital Trust, Lambha. He was Trustee, Modasa Education Trust, Modasa, Vice-President, Executive Committee, Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi and Member, Sardar Patel Memorial Trust, Ahmedabad etc.
Y K Alagh, noted economist, who had long association with him in Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, says, “During the last year I went to Vidyanagar a number of times to take his guidance on matters relating to the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research. He was always his usual self; crisp, to-the-point and always decisive. . . For the last quarter of a century he was always there, soft spoken and firm. Never prone to exaggeration. Always clear on one’s obligation to work, to institutions and to the region and society. Any thing that was taken up was serious. It could be a project to plant a few trees or a discussion on Sardar Sarovar or on primary education of tribal boys. It was important….”
Raghubhai Nayak, an educationist, in his tribute to H M Patel recalls his style of working and how much importance he accorded to school education and its management. It was in 1957 when he was Principal Finance Secretary in the Government of India. He called Raghubhai and Jashiben Nayak, his wife to New Delhi and offered Raghubhai to look after the Delhi – based Gujarat Education Society’s Sardar Patel Vidyalaya as its first Principal. Raghubhai explained his inability to do so in view of his and his wife’s commitment to Saraswati Vidyalaya, their own creation, located in an area inhabited by poor mill workers of Ahmedabad. H M Patel listened to them patiently, appreciated their concern and assured them that he would see to it that their Vidyalaya would be looked after well even whey they left it. Not only this, he offered to be the Chairman of the Saraswati Kelavani Mandal. He kept his word and nurtured the Saraswati Vidyalaya for twenty one years, investing into it his time, energy and money !
Jashiben fondly recalls how he once asked a school child to lay the first brick of the foundation of the Saraswati Vidyalaya’s new building. She says that H M Patel was to lay the foundation. After the conclusion of Puja, he was requested to do so. But, he called one of the children who stood by, handed him a freshly – washed brick and led him to lay it saying, “He is the most important of us all. The school is meant for such children. You will see the building will be completed soon because the innocent child has laid the first brick”.
H M Patel had an uncanny knack for spotting talented young persons and involving them in the work of the Government. He spotted Ratan Bhatia, I G Patel and Manmohan Singh right whey they were studying abroad and attracted them into Government service, inducting them into Ministry of Finance at different times. “He was an outstanding civil servant who deeply valued academic inputs into the formulation of the country’s policies”, observes Manmohan Singh, Former Finance Minister of India.
According to I G Patel, H M Patel always saved on public funds in every possible way. During his visits abroad in connection with work of the Government of India, he chose to stay in a small self – managed apartment with his colleagues and even prepared light meals like breakfast. He, however, never forgot to spend his spare time in buying books and adding new titles to his rich personal library.
Any kind of waste was a taboo for him. Whenever some guest called on him he would ask Khodabhai, his attendant, to offer him a tumbler of water. Khodabhai would bring two, one for the guest and the other for his master. In case H M Patel did not feel thirsty he would direct him to pour the water back into the pot !
H M Patel was a perfectionist par excellence. If, for instance one gave him a bunch of papers not properly stapled, he would unstaple the bunch, cut the papers to proper size and restaple them. Let me share with you what I witnessed at one of the functions in the Home Science College. The dais was tastefully decorated. There was on the table, among other things, a beautiful flower vase filled with fresh crimson roses and marigolds. At some point during the function the flower vase tipped off on the table because it was overstuffed. Without waiting for someone, H M Patel himself rearranged the flowers with great care, putting aside extra ones !
A man of little showing he helped many persons in a number of ways. R C Desai, Principal of B & B Polytechnic, recalls H M Patel saying to him, “Mr. Desai, can you help him ? We should help such poor boys also. He does not have any influence but look at his keenness to study. Can’t you consider him as an exception and admit him to your college ?” He had helped many poor students and at least a retired teacher, whose grown up earning sons had deserted him, financially every month without letting anyone know about it.