Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Ahmed Patel.(PTI File)
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Ahmed Patel.(PTI File)

Ahmed Patel, Congress’ crisis manager: Five instances of how he was a problem solver

Patel had cordial ties with leaders from other parties; even younger leaders from the Congress found him approachable
By Sunetra Choudhury | Edited by Zara Khan | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 26, 2020 10:21 AM IST

Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel, who died of Covid-19 on Wednesday morning, has often been described as Congress’ crisis manager. Here are five instances of how Patel solved problems for his party

Curbing the rebellion of the G-23, 2020

This was perhaps the most recent instance of Patel’s crisis management. When several of his Rajya Sabha colleagues Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, and Kapil Sibal wrote a scathing letter asking for internal elections in the party and for introspection, it was Patel who carefully dissipated the tension and rebellion within the party. Patel’s USP from the time he became parliamentary secretary to Rajiv Gandhi has been unflinching loyalty to the family. The letter was seen as a clear attack on the family and on Team Rahul Gandhi for the way the 2019 election campaign was carried out and for Rahul Gandhi’s refusal to take charge of the party. Patel’s strategy was clear—he set into motion a strategy of reaching out to individuals while alienating the hardline dissenters. Patel personally went and met Sibal and spoke to Azad. He also convinced the party’s chief ministers Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel to give public statements in support of the Gandhi family. Within a day or two, some letter writers like Jitin Prasada and Akhilesh Prasad gave public statements saying all their concerns had been addressed. Also, Patel and his colleagues carefully orchestrated a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on August 24, just two days after the dissent letter became public. In what was seen as a well-choreographed move, leader after leader praised Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and requested her to stay on as Congress president till a new person was elected within six months. Azad was attacked by most other members of the CWC and with announcements about a timeline for elections, the immediate crisis was averted. The ones who weren’t placated—Azad, Sibal and Manish Tiwari—have started discussions once against post the Bihar election embarrassment.

Also Read: Ahmed Patel: A low-profile troubleshooter and a high-power strategist

The Sachin Pilot rebellion, 2020

This was the month-long rebellion that preceded the G-23. On July 12, the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and member of Rahul Gandhi’s inner team, Sachin Pilot, took 18 MLAs and went AWOL from Jaipur. He refused to come back before he was made chief minister instead of Ashok Gehlot. While Pilot spoke to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the person the family trusted to iron things out and the one who worked out the compromise formula was Patel. While Patel was part of the old guard, many of the younger leaders found him accessible and willing to hear them out. Pilot’s aides also say that when Patel (who was known to be close to Gehlot) set up the committee and promised to have his grievances sorted, they knew that his word would be adhered to. A month later, not only was Pilot back in the Jaipur assembly, but without upsetting chief minister Gehlot, a tough balancing act.

Impossible alliances: Maharashtra, 2019

In 2019, when the Maharashtra government formation was uncertain, Patel spent 10 days in Mumbai. According to his aides, he had handled many big elections but never before had he operated from somewhere other than his Wellington Crescent bungalow in the capital. While Sonia Gandhi was reportedly reluctant to join hands with a party that had a Hindutva ideology, Patel heard out their newly elected legislators and understood that the mood in Mumbai was to strike against a BJP government. That’s why party leaders credit Patel as one of the key architects of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition. There were several hiccups like getting all the letters of support, but Patel refused to move from Mumbai till Uddhav Thackeray and the MVA government was sworn in.

Also Read: The centrality of Ahmed Patel in Indian politics

Manmohan Singh trust vote, 2008

The Indo-US nuclear deal was a key moment for Dr Manmohan Singh who was determined to go ahead with it even if his government was threatened. The threat posed by his Left allies, led by Prakash Karat with 59 members of Parliament, was real. It left the United Progressive Alliance short of numbers and that’s when Patel’s relationships with other parties came in. Patel reached out to Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. The party had 39 MPs and would make up for the vacuum created by the left. The two roped in several key leaders—most importantly, former President APJ Abdul Kalam who convinced Mulayam Singh Yadav (with a lesson in the benefits of nuclear power) to vote with the Manmohan Singh government. The result was that the SP’s vote ensured a comfortable 275 vote for the UPA government. Patel told HT that it was one of the key moments that he worked closely with Pranab Mukherjee to deliver the trust win.

Delivering for Sonia Gandhi

But perhaps more than batting for the Congress party, Ahmed Patel will be known for his loyalty to Sonia Gandhi. It was his appointment as her political secretary that made him really come into his own. She trusted his self-effacing, away from the limelight manner, and he ensured that her aura remained spotless. One of the key instances is the way he rallied support for Sonia Gandhi soon after she became party president in 1998. It wasn’t just the Bharatiya Janata Party that led the attack on a foreign-origin leader but that was when Sharad Pawar also left with Tariq Anwar and Purno Sangma, raising the slogan against her foreign origin. At that time, it was Patel who used his good relationship with key alliance partner Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Yadav to issue a statement in her favour. In the midst of all the attacks, Yadav called her “Bharat ki bahu” (India’s daughter-in-law) which went a long way in showing a vote of confidence for the new and inexperienced Congress president.

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