Obituary: The Go-To Man In Congress

By Prashant Sood

A staunch loyalist of Nehru-Gandhi family, Ahmed Patel was the go-to man in the Congress who kept a low profile but quietly wielded power and meticulously executed decisions of the leadership. The veteran Congress leader breathed his last at the wee hours of Wednesday at a Gurugram hospital, fighting the COVID-19 and related complications for over a month.

He served as an effective link between the party and government during the two terms of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) between 2004 and 2014. As political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, he had access to leadership that no other leader in the party had and worked the channels to work out various issues.

A quintessential organisation man, Patel had cross-party connections and direct access to senior opposition leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee.

He shot to limelight when he won Lok Sabha polls from Baruch in Gujarat in 1977 during the Janata Party wave and was made the Gujarat Youth Congress chief. The 71-year old leader was a three-time member of Lok Sabha and was into his fifth term in the Rajya Sabha.

He served as Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi for 16 years and rose in stature with time. His rapport with party leaders across generations came in handy in the role as he efficiently executed decisions while acting as a bridge between the top leadership and party functionaries at various levels.

He was appointed party treasurer in August 2018 ahead of the Lok Sabha elections as Congress faced a fund crunch. The appointment came when Rahul Gandhi was the party president showing his resourcefulness and indispensability to the party.

After the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004, Patel refused to join the Cabinet and instead preferred to work in the organisation.

Accessible, polite and tactful, Patel was a link between the gen-next of the party and senior leadership. Suave but understated in his style, Patel also had a good rapport with the media.

He did not shy away from challenges and pulled off a dramatic victory in Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls despite a determined effort by the BJP to prevent the Congress from winning the seat. It was a battle where his personal prestige was at stake and Patel fought to the finish. The victory in the widely reported election also helped boost the morale of the Congress workers.

Born on August 21, 1949, Patel pursued BSc at Shree Jayendra Puri Arts and Science College, Bharuch, South Gujarat University.

A long-serving member of the Congress Working Committee, he was among those who contested and won elections to the party’s highest decision-making body. Patel had earlier also served as the treasurer of the party when Congress was out of power from 1996-2000. He had also been involved with the work of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.

Even as he facing an Enforcement Directorate questioning in a case of alleged money laundering, he was not bitter in his political attacks and accused the BJP-led government of “political vindictiveness”.

Patel was also the party’s key link with leaders across the political divide. While he played a key role in managing the party’s ties with allies when the United Progressive Alliance governments were in power, he worked equations when the party was not in power to see that Congress remained the principal pole in Opposition and worked closely with other parties during joint programmes against the BJP-led government.

He was unhappy over the letter that a group of 23 Congress leaders wrote to Sonia giving their suggestions for the party’s revamp and instead wanted them to convey their views by meeting her.

Patel was a key player in party’s central-level politics but in home state Gujarat, the Congress continues to battle a series of challenges, having been out of power for nearly 25 years. The party put up a determined fight in the last Assembly poll and almost gave a scare to the BJP but it seems to have lost the momentum now. It lost all the eight bypolls in the state recently on seats that fell vacant with resignations of Congress MLAs ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections. (ANI)

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