As a cub reporter at The Statesman, I had received a political story in regards to the Congress. This was 1992. I didn’t know a single politician at the moment. Using the listing, I referred to as a lot of Congress leaders. Only one referred to as again – Ahmed Patel.
I did my story quoting him. My seniors within the political bureau have been horrified. It was a commandment written in stone that Ahmed Bhai shunned the limelight and also you didn’t quote him.
Later, the identical day, I referred to as him once more and fumblingly tried to clarify. He laughed and requested how lengthy had I been a reporter. I blurted out a complete of six months, of which three months have been as a trainee. “It is my fault. I should have asked you and then told you it is off the record,” he mentioned gently.
“Come and see me soon,” was Ahmed Bhai’s log out to the lots of of individuals starting from cupboard ministers to opposition leaders to journalists and anyone from Bharuch, his native place, the place he began his political profession as a mayor.
Ahmed Patel was Sonia Gandhi’s most-trusted trouble-shooter, her Political Secretary and the one Congress chief she trusted implicitly. He was obtainable to Gandhi 24×7 and may very well be summoned at any time by her. The first and second UPA governments have been solely his creations, although he by no means joined Manmohan Singh’s cupboard. Even the unlikely MVA authorities in Maharashtra led by Uddhav Thackeray was conjured up by Patel and Sharad Pawar.
Patel intervened with younger Congress chief Sachin Pilot and walked again his riot. Pilot instructed me how Patel would ask about his mom, Rama Pilot, and all the time allude to his friendship along with his father, the late Rajesh Pilot, a staunch Congressman.
Patel was the final of the old-school leaders of the Congress – an enormous coronary heart and broad shoulders which shrugged off minor points however may tangle – or un-knot, as wanted – sophisticated political threads. Patel was a “politician’s politician” with an enormous community of relationships throughout get together strains, corporates and the media. A consummate back-room strategist, he knew each methods to work the system and go round it.
Self-deprecation was a Patel artwork as he would declare with a straight face that he attempt his greatest “to make my ‘boss’ (Sonia Gandhi) listen”. He was an insomniac who labored all night time and retired to mattress at round 7 am. Congress leaders can be woken up and instructed succinctly by AP, as he was referred to as within the get together, that they need to file a nomination for the Rajya Sabha. All in a morning’s work.
Patel was genuinely unassuming and used to say with delight that he had labored with all generations of the Gandhi household, beginning with Indira Gandhi who “discovered” him in Bharuch and received him to contest his first Lok Sabha election (he gained three) He was a part of the Rajiv Gandhi authorities however he actually got here into his personal with Sonia Gandhi. He was fiercely loyal to her and was all the time the final particular person she spoke to on political points. Patel, Gandhi and Manmohan Singh determined each single ministerial portfolio and Patel made the calls to the chosen ones.
Patel as soon as received damage on a political concern in the course of the second UPA and needed to resign as Gandhi’s Political Secretary. She spent 5 hours persuading him to not, a privilege not accorded to another chief within the get together.
He would deal with guests to Gujarati snacks as he concurrently noticed many individuals in varied nooks he had in his house. Multiple gatherings that he moved between. Alway, a queue exterior. I as soon as requested him how do you cope with so many individuals each day. This was when his daughter-in-law was battling a terminal illness. He mentioned “These Congress people come from such far away places, spend so much money to get here. Wait in line. All they want is a feeling that someone hears them, a hand on their shoulder, and then they are ready to battle for the Congress again.”
This is how Patel maintained Gandhi’s maintain on the congress get together. If Patel had one remorse expressed privately, it was that Rahul Gandhi didn’t actually like him. Yet, in 2018, with the Congress get together broke, Gandhi needed to appoint him Treasurer to fund the 2019 elections.
The final time I met him at his house about 10 months in the past, he mentioned, “It is time to retire. I want to go back to Bharuch”. I laughed and mentioned, “Nobody including your boss will let you go, Ahmed Bhai.” He simply smiled.
Patel was upset with the BJP and what he considered as “vendetta politics” specifically over his Rajya Sabha seat which he gained after outwitting Amit Shah in 2017. To Patel, the opposition was an opponent not an adversary. And everybody a attainable ally, if he may solely persuade them.
My final reminiscence. “Main hi yaad karta hoon, tum nahi, Swati (You never call, I do).” This mock chiding was obligatory from AP. Then “Yeh COVID-19 khatam hoh jaaye, phir milenge. Apna khayal rakhna,” mentioned in his raspy attribute voice. He by no means recovered from COVID.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an writer and a journalist who has labored with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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