From Babubhai to Backroom Boy, Why Ahmed Patel Remains an Indispensable 'Royal Guard' for Gandhis to Run the Show
Political observers say that Ahmed Patel had left electoral politics way back in 1993 but his name invariably crops up during polls.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi (PTI)
Ahmedabad: When 69-year-old Ahmed Patel, former political secretary to Congress' ex-president Sonia Gandhi, was appointed as party’s treasurer by Rahul Gandhi in August last year, it came with no surprise to those who knew Patel from close quarters.
His second stint as a treasurer (he last held the job from 1996 to 2000) will be crucial as 2019 Lok Sabha draws closer and Congress’s coffer has depleted.
Ahmed Patel, a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, is seen by many in political spectrum as indispensable ‘Royal Guard’ of 10 Janpath and someone who holds good rapport with industrialists, political leaders across party lines and is an organic link between old and new Congress leaders.
Though, Babubhai, as he is fondly called by his friends and family members in his native Piraman village near Bharuch, has lost electoral relevance in Gujarat’s politics two decades ago, but he has been centre of Gujarat’s politics for both BJP and Congress for different reasons.
His appointment as treasurer come at a time when, according to Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) reports, Congress received Rs 225 crore as overall donations in 2017 as compared to the Rs 1,034 crore received by the BJP. And between 2012 and 2016, the Congress has received corporate donations of Rs 198.16 crore as compared to the Rs 705.81 crore that the BJP managed. Given the depleting corporate funding to party, Patel’s appointment was obvious choice.
Political observers say that Ahmed Patel had left electoral politics way back in 1993 but his name invariably crops up during assembly polls.
“In every Assembly polls in Gujarat, the unnamed pamphlets are circulated allegedly by BJP raising questions about who will be Congress’s CM candidate if it wins. Ahmed miyan? They have tried to polarize politics on communal lines dragging Ahmed Patel’s name. Though Patel had never contested Assembly polls,” says an observer.
In October 2017, BJP tried its best to link Ahmed Patel’s name with terror outfit after two suspected ISIS operatives were arrested by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and one of the alleged accused, Kasim Stimberwala, earlier worked as a technician at Sardar Patel Hospital in Ankleshwar town of Bharuch district, where Ahmed Patel had been a trustee. Even Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani demanded Congress Rajya Sabha MP’s resignation over the two terror suspect.
"This is a serious issue, as a terrorist was arrested from a hospital which is being run by Patel... It has now been revealed that though Patel had resigned as a trustee of that hospital in 2014, but he is still at the helm of the hospital's affairs," the Gujarat CM had alleged.
The allegation against Patel, however, did not find any takers in Gujarat public life.
The Congress leader had rejected the charge as "completely baseless" and urged the BJP not to politicise matters pertaining to national security and divide the "peace-loving Gujaratis".
Interestingly, while BJP never misses a chance to portray Patel as minority leader, his community in Gujarat, on the other hands, has never seen him as their leader and often accused him of doing little or nothing for minority rights post Godhra riots.
"Ahmed Patel’s public life has been clean and his moral standing is high as human being, and also as a political leader. He has been actively involved in various charitable institutions in South Gujarat and is a loyal Congress leader," says Kadir Pirzada, a Congress leader from South Gujarat.
"We are going to open gaushala (cow-shelter) near Karjan on February 21 where religious preacher Morari Bapu will grace the occasion besides Ahmed bhai. He has generously helped us with finances to set up the shelter," Pirzada tells News18.
Ahmed Patel has represented three times as Lok Sabha member from Bharuch. However, he lost the Lok Sabha election in 1990 and since 1993 he has been a member of the Upper House.
Rajya Sabha polls had been low key affairs in Gujarat until 2017 when BJP, with the help of disgruntled Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, decided to take on Ahmed Patel and stop him being elected to Upper house in Parliament.
In fact, BJP’s 'Chanakya' Amit Shah himself was involved in this operation to ensure Ahmed Patel’s defeat and indirectly send a message to Sonia Gandhi.
“Rajya Sabha polls turned out to be a high profile drama but 'backroom boy' Ahmed Patel managed to emerge victorious despite Amit Shah’s dirty tricks and Shankersinh Vaghela’s poaching of Congress MLAs. Patel drew entire Gujarat Congress behind him and proved his worth, and saved the day for the party," said an insider.
However, Ahmed Patel will have to go for a trial in connection with his election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, which has been challenged by his rival BJP candidate Balwantsinh Rajput. The legal battle is on.
Meanwhile, his close aides and Congress leaders maintain that Ahmed Patel has a spotless career as a politician and a social worker.
"Ahmed bhai is a man of principle and he may have political opponents, but he has no enemy and that makes him apart and widely respected politicians across party line. When I travel with him and have fast in the month of Shravan, he would ensure I have my meal timely and he would never take non-veg food when he used to dine with me (or any other fasting person). This is how we have seen him," recalls Gaurav Pandya, Congressman from Surat.
In fact, it is alleged that because of Ahmed Patel, Gujarat Congress could not revive but no party leader would say it openly.
Political analyst Hari Desai says that for Gujarat Congress leaders, access to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi has only been via Ahmed Patel and no one could break this channel.
"Even Rahul Gandhi tried to sideline Ahmed Patel but he had to bring him back as treasurer as fund is important to run the show. So far as Gujarat Congress is concerned, until Gujarat Congress does not come out from Ahmed Patel’s influence, it will never revive. Ahmed Patel may not be a mass leader but he is the leader of leaders and his words are considered last for state Congress," Desai told News18.
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