Veteran Congress leader Ahmed Patel, 71, has bid adieu to the world at a time when his party needed him the most. An ace trouble shooter and a political and financial manager par excellence, Ahmed Bhai, as he was commonly known in Congress party circles, was political adviser and, thus, a virtual Man Friday of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
He was also the treasurer of the All India Congress Committee. He died on November 25 morning as the Congress stands sharply divided between warring camps of loyalists to Sonia and her son Rahul Gandhi on the one hand and the critics of the top party leadership of the Gandhis on the other.
Sadly, this is so amid the declining stock of the party which has also been reflected through a series of debacles in state and central elections over the past six-odd years.
Not that Ahmed Patel was any less important for the Congress and its top leaders in other, or normal and rather happier times — the two main qualities that party peers attribute to Ahmed Bhai and his extraordinary clout in the party have always been his loyalty to the top leader of the party and a knack for bringing conciliation whenever differences arose among the party higher ups.
And it is amid such trying times that he breathed his last at a multi-specialty hospital in a Delhi suburb after weeks of battling for life. He was reported to have a COVID attack on October 1 and had recovered from it only to be subsequently afflicted by pneumonia and other complications. Amid the widespread concern about his health, his son Faisal and daughter Mumtaz have been sharing details of his condition and treatment with his friends, admirers and supporters through social media posts. Yet, despite an all-out battle by doctors at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon to save him, he could not survive.
His influence and clout in the Congress party has been so crucial that if any single person is to be credited in helping to establish Sonia Gandhi’s leadership over the party since she became Congress president in 1998, it was Ahmed Patel. Though Ambika Soni, too, has been adviser to Sonia after she became party chief, it was Ahmed Patel who has been with the Congress president for most of her about two-decade-long and still continuing control over the party as its top leader.
Despite being so close to Sonia, Ahmed Patel has been known to keep a low profile. He was a simple living and soft-spoken Congress face who shunned unnecessary publicity and, thus, also stayed away from unwarranted controversies. Ahmed always travelled in an Ambassador car with a lone driver and never used any more swanky SUVs that now define the ways of most politicos.
Through his long innings in Indian politics, Ahmed Patel was reputed to leave his letters and missives unsigned though these were exchanged only after having or sending a word to those whom he wrote. He was often referred to as a backroom boy of the Congress party. As a master strategist, he was quite a bit feared by the Congress satraps. In Congress circles, it is said that Ahmed Bhai could slay and seal the fate of anyone in the party of any consequence without letting the slain party man know what had happened and how.
A veteran of many a political battles, Ahmed Patel’s last Rajya Sabha election from his home state Gujarat made him to virtually go through a test by fire. Quite a few voting Congress MLAs had crossed fence and joined the rival BJP in the wake of the crucial council of states polls. This forced the Congress to herd its remaining flock of MLAs from the state to a holiday resort in Karnataka, which was owned by party strongman DK Shivkumar. And soon the entire Congress party took the fight for Patel knocking the doors of the Election Commission in Delhi and Ahmed won only by a whisker. This prompted him to post a two-word tweet, saying ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and thereby he reasserted the might of his party in an otherwise impossibly difficult state of Gujarat. Behind the fierce tussle over his Rajya Sabha seat was said to be the word of the then BJP president Amit Shah who had, as per Congress leaders, instructed Gujarat BJP to defeat and humble Ahmed at all cost.
Ahmed Patel had started his forays in politics from his homestead in Gujarat, and with his reelection again from the state to the Upper House of Parliament, he could prove the firmness of his roots in state politics. This turned out to be a point that helped the Congress to do better in the subsequent state Assembly polls than before, though Gujarat as a bastion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his point-man Amit Shah continues to remain firmly in the hands of the BJP. As for Ahmed Patel, he is popularly and also affectionately known in Gujarat as Babu Bhai and his loss is going to be greatly felt in the western state both in the Congress circles as also generally in political quarters of the BJP-dominated state.
As for his great financial acumen, Ahmed Patel was often known by the sobriquet of Kuber or money-god of the Congress party. It was him alone to whom the sources of Congress funds were said to be known for long. The BJP that has been after the Congress, always calling it corrupt to the core, could not reach and unravel what it swore to punish. This has been so courtesy Ahmed Patel, and is credited to him more than anybody else in the party. So much so that a few months ago the office and home of a Congress party’s accountant were raided by government agencies and the accountant was picked up by the sleuths. Ahmed Patel lost no time and visited the family members of the accountant to assure them that neither the accountant nor the Congress party did any wrong and, thus, ‘his colleague’ would be soon released from the unwarranted, unjustified and politically motivated custody.
Ahmed was reputed to be burning the proverbial midnight’s oil but in his own way. If he did not answer phone calls of journalists during the day, he replied to their text messages either late in the night or in the wee hours of the morning. Thus, most of the times the journalists deadline for the day was over by the time his replies came. Those who knew him intimately say Ahmed Bhai seldom talked in yes or no and his no was never absolutely negative, nor as good as yes. This is also said to be the case with his relationship with Rahul Gandhi with whom he is thought to have not got along as well as his mother Sonia Gandhi.
Whatever may be the case, Ahmed Patel is going to be greatly missed by his Congress party as also his friends, acquaintances and admirers cutting across Delhi’s political spectrum.