Finish of an period in Congress, Sonia’s Man Friday goes

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 26

Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel’s untimely demise marks the end of an era in the grand old party currently consumed by deep internal distrusts and anxieties.

Patel died at a Gurugram hospital in wee hours on Thursday after multi-organ failure due to COVID-19 complications. Patel was 71.

Widely acknowledged as Congress’ chief crisis manager, Ahmed Patel shadowed Sonia Gandhi as political secretary for 19 out of 22 years she served in the post.

“I have lost an irreplaceable comrade, a faithful colleague and a friend,” Sonia lamented as the tragedy struck a beleaguered party and tributes flowed from across the spectrum with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the condolences and hailing Patel’s role in strengthening the Congress besides his “sharp mind”.

Patel’s indispensability to Sonia was evident from her reliance on him through the tenure as the longest-serving Congress president.

She depended on Patel not only to negotiate the complex terrains of a 135-year old institution but also to engage the broad spectrum of the non-BJP forces bringing the alliance experiment to fruition in UPA-1.

In the 10 years of the Congress-led coalition, Patel operated in his quintessential backroom style exercising iron grip over party organisation and guiding alliance equations as Sonia’s adviser.

While playing a role in cabinet formations, he never desired to be a minister himself. It was perhaps Patel’s ability to rise above trappings of government power that held him in good stead with Sonia, who trusted him completely.

Like former UPA minister Ashwani Kumar says: “Ahmed Patel was a master communicator. Congress President relied heavily on him for delicate political messaging within and outside the party. His ability to keep confidences was his principal strength. Also, he was a man known to know the Congress President’s mind first on all important matters. His untimely demise will further disadvantage the Congress.”

Patel’s non-threatening manner and deep understanding of the Congress affairs meant he was close to all party presidents.

He was one of the three parliamentary secretaries to late PM Rajiv Gandhi, who was also the Congress president. Later on, Patel came close to PV Narasimha Rao thwarting a move by the Arjun Singh led group to oust Rao after the Babri Masjid demolition.

Patel enjoyed equal proximity to former Congress chief Sitaram Kesri and eventually to Sonia, who named Ambika Soni as her first political adviser only to replace her with Patel in 2001.

Insiders speak of Ahmed Patel as a man who realised early on that real power in the Congress flowed from the party. That explains why he remained wedded to the organisation refusing to take up minister-ship.

Patel was an eight-term parliamentarian — thrice from Lok Sabha and five times in the Rajya Sabha. He was elected to RS in 1993 after losing the 1989 general election from Bharuch in the midst of Hindutva surge in Gujarat.

It was this long stint in Parliament that afforded Patel an insight into key players of contemporary political history and helped him guide Sonia better.

Outside Parliament (where he made friends across hues), Patel remained an organisation man.

Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda described him today as the party’s “sankat mochan” and someone who remained a CWC member until his demise.

Janardan Dwivedi said; “This is a very untimely demise. The Congress will not get another Ahmed Patel.”

Among several others, the most abiding message of Patel’s life was loyalty to leadership.

Barring once when he resigned as the AICC treasurer, Patel always backed the high command up until recently when he stoutly challenged the 23 leaders who voiced a rebellion against Sonia Gandhi.

He will today be buried aside his parents in the native village of Bharuch where senior Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, will be present to bid him the final farewell.

Patel gone, the road to intra-Congress friction stands cleared.

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