Sur­vival of The Fit­ted: Pa­tel Re­ceives a Fresh Lease of Life

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

Only three Mus­lim mem­bers have been elected to the Lok Sabha from Gu­jarat. The first, a woman elected in 1962, is lost in his­tory. The sec­ond, Eh­san Jafri, died a tragic death in the 2002 ri­ots. The third, Ahmed Pa­tel, had his po­lit­i­cal life hov­er­ing in and out of ICU for pretty much the whole of Tues­day till it re­ceived a fresh lease of life.

As close aide of four Congress bosses over more than three decades, Pa­tel mas­tered both the un­der­hand and over­hand strokes that his bête noire, Amit Shah, struck against Pa­tel. The lat­ter al­most suc­ceeded, if not for over­play­ing his hand. From when Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi made lit­tle ef­fort to eject Ahmed Pa­tel from his com­fort zone, and per­haps even in­dulged him — the two share a tai­lor — why did the BJP lead­er­ship em­bark on the au­da­cious plot to de­feat Pa­tel? One could be Shah’s re­ported be­lief that Pa­tel was in­stru­men­tal in ha­rass­ing the Modi-Shah duo with court cases dur­ing the UPA’s ten­ure.

But a more log­i­cal rea­son would be that de­feat­ing the Congress pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal sec­re­tary would have dealt a body blow to Congress. Af­ter all, halt­ing Pa­tel’s com­fort­able walk-ins into Ra­jya Sabha — he had done so for four con­sec­u­tive terms since 1993 — would have been, by proxy, the cru­ellest as­sault so far on

A FULL CIR­CLE

An orig­i­nal San­jay Gandhi loy­al­ist who won three con­sec­u­tive Lok Sabha polls from 1977, Pa­tel ended up los­ing the same seat twice be­cause of Gu­jarat’s changing pol­i­tics from 1989. His first loss was due to the tide against Congress, and the sec­ond in 1991, he was swept aside by the cas­cad­ing Hin­dutva wave.

Af­ter that, he worked his way to be­come close aide to suc­ces­sive Congress lead­ers. Con­sciously choos­ing to stay away from min­is­te­rial berths, he made a habit of de­liv­er­ing what his boss wanted. When asked by Ra­jiv Gandhi to make prepa­ra­tions for the Nehru Cen­te­nary in 1989, as sec­re­tary of the Jawahar Bhawan Trust, he ini­ti­ated Amitabh Bachchan in pa­tro­n­is­ing Gu­jarat’s ‘cause’. ₹ 2.5 crore were raised by Bachchan’s con­certs, and the pro­ceeds were used by the trust for drought relief in Gu­jarat. Ahmed Pa­tel re­mained a core mem­ber of PV Narasimha Rao’s party team, and de­spite dis­agree­ments over the lat­ter’s han­dling of the Babri Masjid de­mo­li­tion, he did not join rebels like ND Ti­wari, Ar­jun Singh and Mad­havrao Scin­dia. Yet, when So­nia Gandhi wanted Si­taram Kesri to make way for her el­e­va­tion as Congress pres­i­dent, the ‘bhatija’ (nephew), as Kesri called him, was among those lead­ing the charge. When Rao died, he en­sured that the for­mer prime min­is­ter’s fam­ily gave up their in­sis­tence for his cre­ma­tion in Delhi.

Af­ter be­com­ing po­lit­i­cal sec­re­tary to So­nia Gandhi in 2001, he reg­u­larly stood in for his boss in places she could not go — the PMO, for in­stance. In­scrutable, crafty, and hav­ing a way with rais­ing re­sources at short no­tice for the party, Pa­tel has lived to see an­other day. If Shah breached Pa­tel’s ranks on Tues­day, so did Pa­tel, as the de­ser­tion by Nalin Ko­ta­dia, BJP’s Keshub­hai Pa­tel loy­al­ist who voted for Pa­tel showed.

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