Sonia Gandhi Ahmed Patel
Ahmed Patel with Sonia Gandhi Image Credit: PTI

A lot has been written in the Indian media about Ahmed Patel, powerful Congress leader, who died on November 25 due to complications arising from Covid-19.

No other Congressman has won and retained the extent of trust of the Gandhi family as much as and as long as Ahmed bhai. He died when his party is not in power but still, his death got wide coverage and most of the obituaries acknowledged that being the political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he was in the thick of the Congress’s convoluted politics. After his death the first thing that occurred to many in Delhi was that he was buried with all the Congress party’s secrets.

Ahmed bhai had few peculiar traits which made him so important in Congress’s scheme of things. The most important of his traits that any wannabe politician should know is that he kept hundreds of his relationships in different silos.

So staunchly separated were his political relationships that Mamata Banerjee would never know how close he was with her rivals in the Left parties (in West Bengal) and Mulayam Singh Yadav would never know how well-versed Amhed bhai was with his problems of the court cases and the family issues. People would have general ideas about the politics played by Ahmed bhai but nothing in specific.

The extent of political closeness and degree of personal intimacy Ahmed bhai enjoyed with politicians and bureaucrats, the legal world, the media barons and rich and powerful industrialists were never revealed. This trait to maintain secrecy gave him valuable strategic space to manoeuvre in time of crisis and to the surprise of his rivals, many times he could swing the result. He never took a hard stand on anything and that also played a big part in his success and his failures.

He was the spin-master of the Congress’s events who can be compared to Arun Jaitley but Jaitley never enjoyed the level of actual power within his party that Ahmed bhai had. His politics was about keeping space to manipulate by speaking as less as possible and creating avenues for exit open at all times. He responded mostly to people in three ways. Yes. No. May be.

Second, his biggest characteristic as a politician was that he was a Gujarati with the community’s intrinsic qualities. Patel, who belonged to Ghanchi Muslim community, understood the Gujarati society’s reverence for Laxmi, the deity of wealth. When a politician understands and accepts the centrality of the money behind the power play in society, lots of issues fall in place. Ahmed bhai was a successful treasurer of his party because coming from Gujarat he understood the functional character of money in Delhi.

Known as the back room boy of the Congress, Ahmed Patel personified the party’s culture. He took the middle road if and when need arose. This trait to continue with the status quo was the basic reason he could walk so long and so close behind Sonia Gandhi. Her politics was also to keep the status quo in the party and continue the grip on power.

The praetorian guard

In fact, Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed bhai could never be on the same page in running the party because of the same reason. Rahul Gandhi lives in an unreal world, dreaming things that could not necessarily help him win power. Ahmed bhai was soaked in realpolitik due to his relationships with the ugly and the beautiful of India’s political world. He reached out to everyone in the cross sections of society. He knew what’s on in the dirty and ugly world and in that capacity he had a big role to play for his party and more for Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi, most probably, disliked the Gujarati-flavoured Patel-ian influence on his mother. Ahmed bhai had influence over the decision-making processes in 10, Janpath for sure. As recently as in December 2018, when Rajesthan results came in and Congress was set to form the government, Sonia favoured the views of Patel over Rahul. Rahul Gandhi never wanted Ashok Gehlot to be chief minister but Ahmed bhai’s political logic triumphed over Rahul.

In the CWC meet, that was conveyed to mourn the death of Ahmed bhai and Assam’s tallest Congress leader Tarun Gogoi, Sonia Gandhi was in tears while speaking about her confidante Patel. People present there could see how devastated she was by Ahmed bhai’s sudden death. As Harish Khare, senior editor wrote, “Ahmed bhai was a needle-threader extraordinaire. He made the Congress system work for Sonia, and vice versa.”

A host of friends

When Ahmed bhai was in Metro Hospital in Faridabad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called twice to inquire about his health. He offered all help and even gave a telephone number of Sanjay Bhavsar to connect quickly to him in case of emergency. Home minister Amit Shah had called, too, to offer any help Ahmed bhai wanted. When Patel was subsequently shifted to Medanta hospital, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray called Dr. Naresh Trehan of Medanta twice asking about Ahmed bhai. Friends, those not-so-friendly, adversaries and enemies all could connect to Ahmed bhai.

Why? Primarily because he was the predictable factor of the Congress. The sounding board who made Congress, even when in mess, look like a coherent entity. For all the opposition leaders and adversaries of Congress, Ahmed Patel was one-stop information kiosk. Its anybody’s guess now that without the presence of the one-man-institution — who was a ready reckoner of Sonia Gandhi’s era in Indian politics — the status quo of the Congress is broken. Patel’s exit is a big political development.

The predicament of the analysts in Delhi is to know if the new Congress would take birth or the collapse of the Congress would be accelerated but that cant be predicted without Ahmed bhai! Modi and Shah, Thackeray and Sharad Pawar would be closely waiting and watching which unchartered trajectory Sonia Gandhi’s children would take the Congress party to.

BIO Sheela Bhatt
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