Ahmed Patel: Congress’ chief trouble shooter and a quintessential backroom strategist


Guwahati: Rajya Sabha member and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, 71, died on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with complications arising out of an COVID-19 infection.

He had contracted the virus more than a month and a half ago, on October 1, and was treated at a private hospital at Faridabad before shifted to Gurugram’s Medanta Medicity after his condition deteriorated.

Popularly known as ‘Ahmed Bhai’ or ‘AP’ in political circles, Mr. Patel, who served as the powerful political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was the quintessential backroom strategist during the 10 year rule of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

He was never a part of Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet yet enjoyed more power than any Cabinet minister.

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.

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.

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.

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management skills that the Congress-led government managed to win the trust vote in 2008 after the Left parties had withdrawn their support to the UPA over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

If Pranab Mukherjee was the visible troubleshooter for the UPA, Mr. Patel was, inevitably, the crisis manager who firmly remained in the background.

Late-night meetings at his 23 Mother Teresa Crescent residence or at Mukherjee’s 13 Talkatora bungalow were part of every political reporter’s check out list whenever the UPA was faced with a crisis.

Be it the alleged 2G Spectrum auction scam involving DMK leaders or the walkout by the Left parties Indo-US nuclear in July 2008, Mr. Patel was the man that the Congress party and Ms. Gandhi relied upon to ‘save’ the UPA government.

His last election to the Upper House in August 2017 displayed his fighting side as he seemed to be up against the entire BJP, who, after nominating Amit Shah and Smriti Irani for the first two vacant Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat, was ‘determined’ to deny the third seat to the Congress nominee.

The BJP not only fielded a third candidate but six Congress MLAs had resigned from the Assembly just days before the election, making it difficult for Mr. Patel to secure 44 votes for a win.

He, however, scraped through the election with no votes to spare. His rival, though, has legally challenged the election.

Known for his strategy and management skills, Mr. Patel won many a difficult battle but lost the one against COVID.

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.