Ahmed Patel, political advisor to Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi, and Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha, died of coronavirus early morning today.
Sonia Gandhi mourning his death said in a statement, “I have lost a colleague, whose entire life was dedicated to the Congress party”.
The Prime Minister offering condolences tweeted “his role in strengthening the Congress Party would always be remembered”.
Ahmed bhai was the backroom strategist and sankat mochan of the grand old party. He was a fierce Gandhi loyalist.
He enjoyed good relations with leaders across the political spectrum.
His close ties with the top industrialists of the country helped Congress raise resources for elections and party organizational work.
He was also in the good books of top media houses and powerful NGO lobbies.
During the ten year UPA rule he acted as the bridge between the Manmohan Singh government and the party as well as the government and the alliance partners.
He was considered as the most powerful man in the Congress party after Sonia, PM and Pranab da.
In his last electoral battle in 2017, Ahmed bhai checkmated Amit bhai despite big rebellion in the Congress party and won the mother of all Rajya Sabha elections. The wily politician managed to get a BJP MLA to cross vote.
With Rahul Gandhi assuming office at the top, his influence diminished due to a clash between the old and the new guard. However, Rahul acknowledged his indispensability when Patel was made the Party treasurer in 2018.
After Sonia’s return, Patel was back in action and played a key role in convincing her about the pact with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, an unthinkable coup of sorts.
His death comes at a time when Gandhis are facing rebellion in the party, allies are blaming Congress for loss in Bihar and BJP’s Congress mukt Bharat project hasn’t lost steam.
The party is facing an existential crisis. In state after state, BJP has now taken over from the Congress and is lodged in a direct contest with regional parties.
The party will miss the manouvering skills of Ahmed bhai in forging new / out of the box alliances and quell voices within some regional forces that alliance with Congress could spoil their chances, like in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
His rapport with regional satraps to convince them that Congress is still relevant and main challenger to BJP at national level, will be sorely missed.
At a time when BJP is cornering majority of the electoral funding (2.5 times than Congress in 2019 general elections), through bonds or otherwise, party will miss the negotiation traits of Ahmed bhai who developed personal relationships with top honchos of the corporate world in his 45 year political career.
He was an organization man and acted as the eyes and ears of the Gandhi family. His tactical moves prevented many splits / doused rebellion in some state units of the Congress party.
He also shielded the Gandhis from attacks within party and helped Sonia become the longest serving Congress President.
He used to provide unbiased public feedback from the ground to the Gandhis.
He was the opposite of Gandhis in the party, thus acting as a counter balance and providing a balming influence.
While Gandhis have this sophisticated image and seldom meet grass root workers and leaders, Ahmed bhai ran a darbaar in his hey days from 8 pm.
Post his death, project oust Gandhis, will get momentum backed by rebels and alliance partners.Party could also have splits like in the 1990s.
The Congress party needs a new vision and roadmap to appeal to the youth of the country and take on the night of Modi-Shah duo.
His death may well provide an opportunity to the grand old party to (1) democratize the institutions, (2) provide conducive environment for honest debate and discussions; reboot and start afresh.
The way politics is done and elections are fought has changed in the Modi era and the grand old party has a lot of catching up to do.
The article was first published here.