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