The man who was chief lieutenant to three generations of the Congress' first family. The 'affable' entity who slowly but quietly cemented his place in the Grand Old Party's durbari politics.
Ahmed Patel passed away in the wee hours of Wednesday, 25 November, after suffering from COVID-19 and other health conditions.
The veteran Congress leader did not come into the media scene till the tightly contested Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat in 2017, where he outwitted election strategist extraordinaire Amit Shah. His rise to the highest echelons of the party's hierarchy, though, was steadily crafted for over 40 years.
AP: The Gandhis' Trusted Political Advisor
'AP' as Patel was known in the Congressi and political circles, cut his teeth into politics during Indira Gandhi's tenure and learnt the ropes during Rajiv Gandhi's time.
He was in Parliament continuously since 1977 and a three-time Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch in Gujarat. He was in Rajya Sabha since 1993.
It is because of his proximity to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi that Patel turned into Sonia Gandhi’s political advisor after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. Eventually, when she plunged into active politics, he remained her sounding board.
An NDTV article by senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi suggests that over the years, whenever Sonia Gandhi would say in a party meeting that she would "think about" something, it would invariably mean "discussing it with AP."
Journalist Pallavi Ghosh, in an article for News18, said that Patel never flaunted his proximity to the Congress supremo. The fact that he was discreet about it made him valuable to her party.
Many believed that after "Team Rahul" took over, Patel's importance in the party would diminish.
Emerging as Rahul's Trusted Man
In Gujarat, it was Ahmed Patel who called the shots for the Congress. As Rahul Gandhi took centre-stage in the party, many were vying to be "Rahul's AP", implying that Patel, who was in his 70s, would be shunted out to make way for a newer face.
Pallavi Ghosh, in the 2017 article, writes that initially it did seem like Patel's rein was over as he would respond to any question about Rahul Gandhi with an "I don't know."
But, after the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle and the Congress being routed in West Bengal thereafter in 2016, Patel was both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi's fall-back man. He was heavily involved in discussing seat-sharing agreements with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, and steered the party ship during the presidential and vice presidential elections after that.
After the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election in 2017, Patel was appointed treasurer of the Congress party in 2018, showing that Rahul Gandhi reposed faith in him as well.
The 2017 Election to the Gujarat Rajya Sabha Seat
In the election to the three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in 2017, Patel won by the skin of his teeth securing 44 votes, as the contenders for the other two seats, BJP's Amit Shah and Smriti Irani secured 46 votes.
Ahead of the election, the Congress saw six legislators resign in a rebellion allegedly designed by veteran politician Shankarsinh Vaghela, who, too, exited the party two weeks ago after he was sidelined. Three joined the BJP, one of them, Balwantsinh Rajput, lost to Patel in the election.
Patel's win was made possible by the Election Commission which declared that two votes polled by the Congress party rebels were invalid. This reduced the strength of the house to 174, which meant that Patel needed 44 votes to win as opposed to the earlier 45, which was becoming increasingly difficult amidst defections from his party.
Counting, stalled various times, was finally completed at 2 am, marking a win in a prestige battle for the Congress, ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections of 2018.
This was the time when Ahmed Patel, who was usually shy of the media, held more press conferences than probably in his entire political career and captured national attention.
The Political Rise That Was Never Written About
In recent times, Patel was once again the news, when 23 Congress leaders dissented and wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi seeking structural changes in the party.
It was said that while the letter was written to Sonia Gandhi, it was directed at Patel, whose rise and increasing clout in the Congress was unpalatable to many.
But in a party where who's in the Gandhis' good books and who's not is routinely whispered conversation, Patel made his mark in an unassuming manner and only managed to grow from strength to strength.
From Indira to Rajiv to Sonia and now Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Patel remained by the Gandhis' side and subsequently climbed the pecking order in the Congress.
While his immense political prowess became a talking point very late in his career, many would agree today, that it was a phenomenal political rise that many pundits missed.
(With inputs from NDTV and CNN-News18)