The Ahmed Patel I knew

Written By: Kartikeya Sharma
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Nov 25, 2020, 11:47 AM(IST)

Ahmed Patel Photograph:( Twitter )

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The last two decades of the Indian National Congress cannot be understood without knowing Ahmed Patel. It will not be wrong to say that Congress, as we know it today, belonged to Ahmed Patel. 

I did not know that it would be my last Eid with Ahmed bhai. I saw him take all precaution and never once suspected that he would fall ill and would never make his way back home.

The last two decades of the Indian National Congress cannot be understood without knowing Ahmed Patel. It will not be wrong to say that Congress, as we know it today, belonged to Ahmed Patel. 

He was fondly called as AP by both junior and senior partners. It is not as if AP had no history before Sonia Gandhi, but he came into his own during her tenure. The irony is that he also witnessed the lowest phase of his career during Sonia Gandhi’s tenure as the president of the Party. 

AP became MP from Gujarat in the 1980s, and since then never looked back. In the late 80s, he made a switch to the Rajya Sabha and did well even during PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure in the Congress.

It would be impossible to cover Congress during Sonia’s days if one did not have access to her all powerful political secretary - AP. It also remained impossible to understand Congress even when Rahul Gandhi sidelined AP during his tenure. 

Patel's institutional memory served everyone associated with him. My first brush with AP was in 2004 when I was a junior reporter in a TV channel. Those were different days, perhaps. I had done a story that was not particularly complimentary to him. He called me, asking that I inserted his version of events, not a word of anger passed his lips on the overall tone of the story nor was my editor called over the story.

During the reign of UPA, his power and reach remained immense. I remember a serving Cabinet minister calling me and complaining that even Sonia Gandhi does not keep the sanctity of a private conversation. When I asked the reason, she said she had gone to 10, Janpath to inform Gandhi that she would be on leave for 10 days in Europe and by the time she left the premise, she received a call from AP asking her which countries she intended to visit, and that he too be kept in the loop. 

My answer was that if the boss loves him, then you cannot fight him. Make peace with AP. 

A second conversation I recall was Patel’s own assessment of himself.  On many issues, he did not see eye to eye with Rahul Gandhi but was candid enough to admit that one cannot perform surgery on nature, and that the work had to be done with what one has. 

When I probed him about being sidelined after all he did for the party, his answer would remain the same. 

“Not a single person would stand at my gate if the party realised that Sonia Gandhi is not interested in working with me,” he would say. 

He knew his power and limit, and understood that it was a symbiotic relationship. Perhaps it is for this reason that he dispassionately spoke against all 23 dissenters in Congress Working Committee when they questioned Sonia Gandhi’s way of functioning. 

It was not as if he was surprised by the letter. He knew the letter existed and also knew what his last stand was. 

Lastly, he was a quintessential Congressman. He has taken many secrets to grave. He chose never to speak in public. He would always call back, irrespective of rank and designation and never hold a grudge. 

There are many anecdotes I have of AP, but time is not ripe to share but with this I would like to end this obit. 

During a reporting assignment, I sent a text message to AP by mistake. The message was supposed to be sent to my editor. The text message read that “AP has confirmed that this particular minister would be asked to resign because madam thinks that continuation is untenable. We can run with the story”. 

I ran with the story after speaking with my editor not realising that the message was not with him. The story broke, I won the day but also received a lashing from AP saying that he would never speak with me again. I thought that it would end my reporting in Congress. 

It was 2008 but I received a call in evening where AP apologised to me for shouting at me.

And like a true self effacing Gujarati he said, "You got to be careful in what you speak or write in context of me. I don’t like my name being taken. Just see to it."

This was AP -- a powerful back room person but humble who never let power run in his head. He will be missed above all for the powerful political observer he was despite being a player in the system.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer)

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