Ahmed Patel — A quintessential backroom strategist

If Pranab Mukherjee was the visible troubleshooter for the UPA, ‘AP’ was the crisis manager who firmly remained in the background.

Updated - November 26, 2020 12:54 am IST

Published - November 25, 2020 06:29 am IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leader Ahmed Patel.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel.

Rajya Sabha member and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, 71, died on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with complications arising out of a 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.

Known for his loyalty to the Gandhis

Mr. Patel served as a key link not just between the Congress and its allies but also between the party and Mr. Singh's government.

His ability to reach out to corporate as well as political leaders prompted the former party chief Rahul Gandhi, who was not known to share a great relationship with Mr. Patel, to bring him back as the party's treasurer in August 2018.

With the coffers of the Congress party much depleted ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Mr. Patel was expected to get donations from all quarters including industry leaders and help Congress put up a strong fight.

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.

Corruption charges

Though his name was thrown up during the cash-for-vote scandal (when the BJP alleged that cash was offered to MPs ahead of the Left-sponsored No Confidence Vote against the UPA), a parliamentary panel that probed the scandal didn't find anything against him.

But Mr. Patel’s image of enjoying ‘extraordinary' clout in the government because of his proximity to the Gandhi family often lent itself to attacks from the Opposition that levelled serious charges of corruption against him.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED ) had questioned the 71-year-old leader multiple times, as recently as July this year in a money laundering as well as a bank fraud case involving the Gujarat-based Sterling Group.

Mr. Patel, however, called it as political witchhunt and vendetta by his rivals.

While Mr. Patel’s stature grew nationally, the Congress in Gujarat shrunk over the years and many blamed his ‘towering presence’ as the reason why no local leader could grow in the State.

Handpicked as a Parliamentary Secretary by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, Mr. Patel had represented the Bharuch contituency thrice (1977,1980 and 1984) as a Lok Sabha member.

A few years after his defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, he entered the Rajya Sabha in 1993. Since then, he has been elected to the Upper House multiple times.

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.

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