'Bhabubhai' Ahmed Patel's name has magical appeal even 2 years after his death
A sprawling bungalow in Bharuch town that once used to bustle with people seeking to meet Congress leader Ahmed Patel is now mostly quiet. The veteran politician passed away in 2020 due complications post a COVID-19 infection.
During his time, Ahmed Patel was the backbone of the Congress in Gujarat, a state which for long was its bastion. Two years after his demise, his void in the party is yet to be filled. At a recent public gathering of ‘Jan Manch’, the Congress’ public outreach programme in south Gujarat, the party had photographs of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel in the backdrop.
“He was such a tall leader that his name still holds great appeal both for the Congress and the public,” said former state Congress president Amit Chavda in his speech from the stage.
Soon after followed a controversy around Ahmed Patel’s alleged role in attempts to topple the then Modi-led BJP government after the grisly riots of 2002 in Gujarat.
Patel managed to rise as a Muslim leader yet was not just a leader of the Muslims alone in Gujarat despite the BJP’s attempts through the years to paint him in a communal colour.
In August 2017, after Patel won the Rajya Sabha polls in a nail-biting last-minute midnight result, the BJP alleged that the leader had some connection with a suspected ISIS operative arrested from Bharuch. The claim was refuted by both Ahmed Patel and the Congress.
“Ahmed Patel could perhaps have convinced many Gujarat leaders to stay within the party fold. If he was here, many like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore or even the over 200 party leaders who have left the Congress from Bharuch alone to join the BJP could have been convinced otherwise. Why would the BJP not want to keep his name mired in controversy? He was a leader who was in good terms with everyone in the rank and file of the party and even in the BJP,” a Congress leader from Gujarat told The Federal on the condition of anonymity.
“His demise was a huge blow for the party. In the 2022 assembly elections, Gujarat witnessed an aggressive BJP and emerging AAP. The Congress certainly could have the used the presence of AP (as he was called within the party). The party always depended on his backroom strategies and his abilities to manage political crisis of all kinds,” the leader added.
“Many in the party are missing his presence. Ahmed Patel at any time would pick up the phone and call the top leadership or someone at the bottom most position in a district to resolve an issue. In the 2022 election, it was apparent the Congress missed Patel. We were no way close to being prepared in 2022 compared to 2017,” said Jayesh Patel, a Congress leader in south Gujarat.
People in Piraman, Ahmed Patel’s native village, and across Bharuch still fondly remember ‘Bhabubhai’, as he was addressed, as their last stop to solve any and every issue. Multiple trusts-run hospitals and schools in the district saw the light of the day owing to him. He included the district under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana during the Manmohan Singh government much after he was a Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch.
“All the developments you see in Bharuch today are the result of his (Patel’s) efforts. Ahmed Bhai was such a tall figure that no one can ever forget him. He took care of everyone here,” said Abu Mallick, owner of a small eatery along the Surat-Ahmedabad highway.
“Nobody here in Piraman will ever vote for any other party than Congress,” said Mallick, who also hails from Piraman.
Ahmed Patel won the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat three times between 1977 and 1989 and later became a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat. However, despite being a key figure in national politics, he remained connected with his roots in Bharuch long after he stopped contesting from the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat.
“Ahmed Patel rose in the Congress ladder by contesting the local body polls in 1976. His rise began when Indira Gandhi’s decision to impose Emergency saw several party veterans quit the Congress,” said Manishi Jani, a Gujarat-based political analyst. “However, Patel kept the Congress light burning in south Gujarat by winning the Bharuch seat. He was a 28-year-old from a nondescript village. Winning the Bharuch seat paved his road to the national politics.”
“In 2001, Ahmed Patel became the political advisor of Sonia Gandhi. It was only after Sonia Gandhi took over the AICC and began preparing for the 2004 Lok Sabha election that Ahmed Patel emerged as a key party leader and a master strategist,” Jani said.