Ahmed Patel: A low-profile troubleshooter and a high-power strategist
New Delhi Ahmed Patel, the go-to person for Congress leaders in times of crisis and known as the party’s Chanakya for his political acumen, died early on Wednesday at the age of 71 of post-Covid-19 complications. His death, announced in a tweet by his son Faisal, was mourned by parties cutting across ideological lines in a testament to the wide regard he commanded as a political tactician.
“With profound grief and sorrow, I regret to announce the sad and untimely demise of my father, Mr. Ahmed Patel at 25/11/2020 at 3:30am. After testing positive for Covid-19 around a month back, his health worsened further due to multiple organ failure,” Faisal Patel tweeted.
The veteran Congress politician, a five-time member of the Rajya Sabha and two-time Lok Sabha member, had been admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) at Gurugram-based Medanta Hospital on November 15. Patel had, on October 1, announced on Twitter that he had contracted the coronavirus disease and requested people who had recently come into contact with him to to self-isolate.
The passing of Patel,who leaves behind his wife, son and a daughter, is a blow to the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi, whom he served as political secretary for nearly 17 years. On Monday, former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, another Congress veteran who rose from the grassroots and steered the state towards peace after decades of insurgency, died, also of Covid-19 complications.
Popularly known as Babu bhai, Ahmed bhai and AP in political circles, Patel had for decades been the chief crisis manager, the key trouble shooter and political strategist of the Congress, whose leaders were effusive in grieving his death.
“I have lost an irreplaceable comrade, a faithful colleague and a friend. I mourn his passing and I feel deeply for his bereaved family to whom I offer my sincere feelings of empathy and support,” Sonia Gandhi said.
Rahul Gandhi said Patel “lived and breathed Congress” and stood with the party through its most difficult times. “It is a sad day. Shri Ahmed Patel was a pillar of the Congress. He lived and breathed Congress and stood with the party through its most difficult times. He was a tremendous asset,” he said.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra described Patel as not only a wise and experienced colleague to whom she constantly turned for advice and counsel but also a friend “who stood by us all, steadfast, loyal, and dependable to the end”. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “Ahmed Patel ji was one of the most trusted leaders of the Congress Party and a great friend of mine. His passing away is an irreparable loss to the Congress Party.”
As a mark of respect to the departed leader, the Congress flag will fly at half-mast for the next three days.
President Ram Nath Kovind, vice president M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined Congress leaders and politicians from other parties in mourning the death of Patel in a rare display of unity that cut across party and ideological lines.
“An astute Parliamentarian, Shri Patel combined the skills of a strategist and the charm of a mass leader. His amiability won him friends across party lines. My condolences to his family and friends,” the President tweeted.
Naidu called Patel an able parliamentarian who had always maintained cordial relations across the political spectrum. Modi tweeted: “Known for his sharp mind, his role in strengthening the Congress Party would always be remembered. Spoke to his son Faisal and expressed condolences. May Ahmed Bhai’s soul rest in peace.”
In a tweet, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief JP Nadda wrote: “Deeply anguished to hear about the demise of veteran Congress leader Shri Ahmed Patel Ji. I pray for strength to the family members and his supporters at this hour of grief. Om Shanti.”
Union ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar and Smriti Irani were joined by several state chief ministers, both those ruled by the Congress and other parties, and allies and rivals in paying tribute to Patel and offering their condolences to his family.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said Patel played a prominent role in the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress, a year ago
“The Congress party has lost its Chanakya in Patel’s demise, while the MVA government has lost a guiding light. I got help from his experience and guidance when the MVA government was formed,” Thackeray said.
It wasn’t only In forging an unlikely coalition government in Maharashtra that Patel’s negotiating skills were evident. The veteran also played a role in defusing a crisis caused by a letter written in August by 23 senior Congress leaders including his Rajya Sabha colleagues Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal calling for internal elections in the party and introspection.
The letter was seen as an attack on the Gandhi family and team Rahul Gandhi for his refusal to take charge of the party. Patel helped thwart a potential rebellion, personally meeting Sibal and speaking to Azad. Patel and his colleagues carefully orchestrated a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on August 24, just two days after the letter became public, At the meeting, leader after leader praised Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and requested her to stay on as Congress chief until a new president is elected within six months. Azad was attacked by most other members of the CWC and with the announcement of a timeline for internal elections, an immediate crisis was averted.
The July crisis in Rajasthan caused by a clash between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot blew over after Patel helped work out a compromise by setting up a committee to have the latter’s grievances against the CM addressed. Pilot, who had gone AWOL with 18 MLAs, was back in the assembly a week later.
Patel also played a pivotal role in the Manmohan Singh government winning the 2008 trust vote over the Indo-US nuclear deal, enlisting the support of the Samajwadi Party to counter the threat posed by the loss of support of the Left parties, which bitterly opposed the deal.