Ahmed Patel, Rajya Sabha MP and veteran Congress leader and strategist, passes away

Published : November 25, 2020 18:48 IST

Ahmed Patel after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2017. Photo: PTI

Ahmed Patel, who was known as a key strategist, a back-room crisis manager, troubleshooter and anchorman of the Congress, breathed his last in the early hours of November 25. He was 71. He was diagnosed with the Sars Cov-2 virus on October 1 and was under treatment at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon district of Haryana from November 15. According to a brief statement issued by his family, he suffered multi-organ failure during the course of the treatment.

A close confidant of the Gandhi family and political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel was also called “Ahmedbhai” or A.P. by colleagues and journalists alike. A five-time Rajya Sabha and three-time Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, he was a serving MP of the Upper House and party treasurer at the time of his demise. He was the second senior Congressman to pass away because of COVID19 after Tarun Gogoi, a three-time Chief Minister of Assam.

Ahmedbhai Mohammadbhai Patel originally belonged to Bharuch, South Gujarat. He began his political career in 1976 when he was elected as a Councilor from the Bharuch Taluka Panchayat. He joined the Youth Congress and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 at the age of 28. He was appointed joint secretary to the All India Congress Committee under Indira Gandhi’s leadership and, later, became Parliamentary Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi.

A man with exceptional organisational skills, he was also instrumental in forging coalitions of the most unlikely partners. A case in point is the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in Maharashtra, comprising the Shiv Sena, the Congress, and the the Nationalist Congress Party. He played a crucial role in diffusing the rancour between the Congress factions led by Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan.

Though he belonged to the Congress’ ‘Old Guard’, Ahmed Patel was accessible to and trusted by the younger leaders of the party as well. He was known as a person who could mobilise funds for the party. He played a key role in keeping the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) together. Though embroiled in a cash-for-votes scam in 2008, he was exonerated by a parliamentary committee. More recently, the Enforcement Directorate went after him on money-laundering charges, a move that he claimed was allegedly spurred by the vendetta politics of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

In 2017, against heavy odds Ahmed Patel succeeded in securing his nomination to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. He was in a sense the “eyes and ears” of Sonia Gandhi, a trusted lieutenant. In a condolence message, the Congress president observed that she had lost “an irreplaceable comrade, faithful colleague and friend”. His entire life, she wrote, was dedicated to the Congress party. Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice president, described him as a “tremendous asset” and a “pillar of the Congress party”. Former Union Minister P. Chidambaram described him as a hard core secularist.

Ahmed Patel’s demise comes at a time when organisational issues are being intensely debated within the Congress, where dissent has become the norm rather than the exception. His absence will be sorely missed at least by the central leadership of the party, if not by the rank and file.