Veteran Congress leader Ahmed Patel died on November 25 at a Gurugram hospital due to COVID-19-related complications. He was 71.
Popularly known as ‘Ahmed Bhai’ of ‘AP’ in political circles, he was an eight-time parliamentarian—three times from Lok Sabha and five times from Rajya Sabha. He was also the treasurer of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
Patel will go down as a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist who was the go-to man and backroom strategist in the grand old party.
Patel was born on August 21, 1949 in Bharuch, Gujarat. Son of a social worker, Patel joined the Youth Congress, the student's wing of the Indian National Congress to begin with. He contested local body elections from Bharuch in 1976. But he shot to limelight in 1977 when he was 28 and chosen by Indira Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Baruch during the Janata Party wave. He won, though the Congress faced a drubbing.
Patel later went on to be part of Congress’ organisational structure in Gujarat and at the Centre. He was appointed Parliament Secretary by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985.
In the two UPA governments between 2004-2014, Patel was the all-important link between the Congress party and the government. He remained secretary to party president Sonia Gandhi for 16 years and enjoyed access to the top brass of the party like no other leader.
It was during this period that his image of a backroom crisis manager getting things executed while keeping a low profile, made him one of the most powerful Congress leaders of his time.
“In Sh. Ahmed Patel, I have lost a colleague, whose entire life was dedicated to the Congress Party. His faithfulness and dedication, his commitment to his duty, his always being there to help, his generosity were rare qualities that distinguished him from others. I have lost an irreplaceable comrade, a faithful colleague and a friend,” Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi said in a statement on November 25. “I mourn his passing and I feel deeply for his bereaved family to whom I offer my sincere feelings of empathy and support,” she said.
In August 2018 ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Patel was appointed Congress party’s treasurer by Rahul Gandhi amid fund crunch in the Congress. The position signified the unwavering trust that the Gandhi family had on Patel who replaced Motilal Vohra, the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and another Gandhi family loyalist. Vohra was treasurer of the party for 17 years before Patel.
It was the time when Rahul Gandhi had taken charge of the party and there were reports that he didn’t like Patel and his ‘old-school’ style of functioning of managing politicians and corporates. Yet, Patel managed to be a bridge between the new and old brigade of the party and Rahul included him, and his loyalists Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad, in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) - party’s highest decision-making body.
It was due to this ability of building bridges that Patel was one of the few leaders who worked closely with three generations of Gandhis –Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. His connections across parties are also known.
Patel did not like the recent letter written by 23 leaders seeking organisational changes in the party. He suggested the leaders could have raised the issue by meeting the top leadership.
Not that Patel did not share good rapports with former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Congress president’s like Sitaram Kesri but his trust of the family remained intact, all through.
Patel proved his worth, after Congress 2014 debacle, by winning the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections, his last election, in Gujarat where he was up against the BJP who had nominated Amit Shah and Smiti Irani in the first two vacant Rajya Sabha seats and used all the might to deny the third seat to the Congress. Six Congress MLAs had resigned from the Assembly just days before the election making the road to success difficult for Patel.
Patel faced corruption charges from the Opposition. In the cash-for-vote scandal of 2008, however, a parliamentary committee that probed gave him a clean chit. More recently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had questioned a money-laundering as well as a bank fraud case. Patel, however, called it political vendetta by his rivals.
Patel is survived by his wife Memoona and two children Faisal and Mumtaz.
“He was the man who helped the party sail through the crisis,” a Congress leader said, adding that his passing away triggered significant changes within the party.