In this file picture from 2019, Congress leader Ahmed Patel flanked by KC Venugopal Rao and Mallikarjun Kharge (R) addresses a press conference, in Mumbai.(PTI)
In this file picture from 2019, Congress leader Ahmed Patel flanked by KC Venugopal Rao and Mallikarjun Kharge (R) addresses a press conference, in Mumbai.(PTI)

Ahmed Patel: Congress’ chief trouble shooter and master strategist is no more

Ahmed Patel had been the chief crisis manager, the key trouble shooter, the go-to man in emergency situations and a master strategist for the Congress for decades.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
UPDATED ON NOV 25, 2020 11:39 AM IST

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel died in early hours of Wednesday due to multiple organ failures after having tested positive for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) last month, his son Faisal Patel announced in a tweet. He was 71.

Popularly known as ‘Babu bhai’, ‘Ahmed Bhai’ and ‘AP’ in political circles, Patel had been the chief crisis manager, the key trouble shooter, the go-to man in emergency situations and a master strategist for the Congress for decades.

Born on August 21, 1949, at Piraman village near Bharuch in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, he represented the state eight times in Parliament – three times as a Lok Sabha member from Bharuch and five times as a Rajya Sabha member.

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A Gandhi family loyalist, Patel was one of the most powerful leaders in the Congress and is said to have repeatedly turned down the offers to join the central government when the party was in power.

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Having served as political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi from 2001 to 2017 when she handed over the reins of the organisation to her son Rahul Gandhi, Patel remained a vital link between the party high command and leaders and workers, and also between the party and the government besides the allies.

Patel played an important role during the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government but always maintained a low profile.

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It was an unwritten rule those days that the crew of news channels would switch off their cameras whenever Patel spoke to the media. Journalists would often look for hints from him to confirm their leads.

It was due to his crisis management skills that the Congress-led government managed to win the trust vote in 2008 after the Left parties had withdrawn their support to the UPA over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

In August 2018, the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi appointed Patel as the party treasurer, a post he had held from October 1996 to July 2000.

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The appointment came at a time when the Congress was grappling with its worst financial crisis. Several Congress leaders had admitted to “severe funds crunch” during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The crisis, blamed on corporate houses moving away from the Congress, continued through subsequent elections.

Patel had obviously been brought back as the treasurer to use his contacts with the industrialists to mobilise the resources for the party to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

A member of the powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC) since April 1992, Patel also served as the parliamentary secretary to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985-86.

Apart from being Gujarat Congress president from January 1986 to October 1988, he was party general secretary twice from September 1985 to January 1986 and then from May 1992 to October 1996.

Patel won his fifth term from Gujarat in 2017 after a nail-biting finish in the bitterly fought Rajya Sabha elections, which had become a prestige battle between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Patel was known for settling internal dissensions in the party but his death came at a time when the Congress is battling crisis over the leadership issue. A group of 23 leaders wrote to the Congress president last month seeking complete overhaul of the party and a full-time leadership to stem the steady decline of the 135-year-old organisation. They renewed their call after the drubbing in Bihar assembly elections and by-polls in several states.

With its chief trouble shooter gone, a battered Congress stares at tough times and a hard road ahead.

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