Ahmed Patel Was More Than Just A Tall Leader. Who’ll Replace Him? 

“Ahmed bhai’s greatest quality was his accessibility. He ensured that he was always within the reach of people.”

4 min read

After the passing of Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi remembered him as an ‘irreplaceable’ friend, while Manmohan Singh called his death an ‘irreparable’ loss to the party.

In Ahmed bhai’s absence, the Congress party now faces a tough question: how will the grand old party make up for this body blow, and who will fill these big shoes?

Ahmed Patel’s Demise Amid Congress Crisis – And Consequences For The Party

While the Congress has run into innumerable crises – ranging from the never-ending succession plan, pressure from the ‘group-23’ and its electoral defeat in Bihar, to losing ground in other states and regional leaders’ factionalism – the departure of Ahmed bhai has worsened the internal crisis within the party manifold.

71 years is no age to go. More so because Ahmed bhai led a simple; apart from staying up till the wee hours, his kept a balanced routine. Keeping late hours perhaps even did him good – as he could concentrate better on essential and intricate political issues.

This sense of accomplishment, in all likelihood, was responsible for keeping him hale and hearty.

Ahmed Patel: A Complete Package

Over the decades, Ahmed Patel had grown into a multifaceted leader: a complete package unto himself. Congress has many leaders, but who else is a one-stop-shop like him? Even if there are a few strong leaders, can you see them moving up the ladder? In the language of some young leaders, “what does one bring to the table?” So, here you have a glance of what Ahmed bhai brought to the Congress’s table.

Ahmed Patel’s Impartiality & Ability To Cement Relationships

Ahmed bhai believed in bringing forth the realistic side of politics. He tried his best to keep his opinions and biases aside to ensure an even exchange of ideas. Whether the party matter was related to Maharashtra or Manipur, he paid equal attention to resolving issues simultaneously.

The way he tackled the latest crisis in Rajasthan, deferring the confrontation between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, was formidable.

Another prominent quality was impartiality. This was demonstrated even during the Rajasthan crisis. Gehlot was a friend of his, and Patel must have indeed been disappointed with Sachin Pilot, but he rose above personal leanings, set aside his personal opinions, and handled his cynical colleagues in Delhi – and stayed focused on saving the state government from collapsing.

Patel’s Strategic Prowess Distinguished Him From Other Leaders

Ahmed bhai was also known for being a treasure trove of institutional memory. From Indira Gandhi to the era of Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, only a handful of leaders had this formidable attribute, which includes stalwarts like PV Narasimha Rao, Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar. Some of them brought in inputs related to intellect and policy, some came up with the practical aspect of it.

But what sets one apart in the political sphere is strategic ability, and Ahmed bhai was a crown jewel of the Congress due to strategic prowess.

Yet another trait that made Ahmed Patel stand apart was that he had each constituency on his fingertips – his ability to keep an account of each political constituency, keeping abreast of latest ground developments, and his acumen – to pick a winning candidate from a seat – he did it all without the help of a computer. All he carried was a small notebook.

Ahmed Patel: A Soft-Spoken, Accessible Leader

There is no denying that political parties have to deal with black money; Indian political parties always choose someone honest to take care of the party treasury. So the person being offered the post of treasurer has to be a certified incorruptible person. This explains Patel’s position as the Congress’s long-term party treasurer. Beyond this role, Patel continued to be a member of the innermost circle.

But perhaps, the greatest quality which makes one a true leader is accessibility, and Patel was highly accessible. He ensured that no information was lost and that he was always within the reach of the people.

A lot of people claim that he hid behind the curtain and played cloak-and-dagger politics. This is an unfounded assessment. He was a soft-spoken person, who preferred to keep a low profile, steering clear of the media. He would listen more and talk less.


Why Congress Will Be Hard-Pressed To Fill Patel’s Shoes

It would be wrong to say that the Congress party has no leaders. But a leader being a complete package by themselves is a rarity.

It will take at least three people to achieve Ahmad bhai’s output, and identifying and cultivating them will need both time and sustained effort.

Recently, historian Vinay Sitapati wrote a book on the BJP titled ‘Jugalbandi’. He explained the simple fact that the BJP is all about teamwork and long-term thinking. The BJP’s core strategy has been to place a Syama Prasad Mookerjee together with a Deen Dayal Upadhyay, an Advani alongside a Vajpayee, a Modi next to an Amit Shah in the true spirit of ‘jugalbandi’.

In contrast, Congress policymakers have become victims of their own dilemma and distractions. They seem clueless about the new game in the Modi era – what mammoth political and electoral machine are they fighting and what they need in order to match them. Thus, Ahmed bhai’s untimely death has plunged the party into further crisis and gloom.


Ahmed Patel’s Demise Underscores Deeper Malaise Within Congress

All political parties need leaders who can keep the flock together, cementing differences to keep the group strong and thriving. They are the strategists who manage and run the party.

There are a few leaders who can play their role in respective areas of strength, but if the decision-makers sit back and think, they will realise they failed to create that pipeline which could have supplied dozens of Ahmed bhais.

Therefore, Ahmed bhai's departure is not just the loss of a person – this tragedy underscores the deeper malaise that the Congress party needs to address in its fight for survival, and is a reminder to the party that there are big shoes to fill. Indeed, will there be another Ahmed Patel?

(Disclaimer: This piece was originally published on Quint Hindi and can be accessed here.

The original has been translated to English by Om Tiwari. He can be reached on Twitter @iamomtiwari.)

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