Ahmedabad: Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who pulled off a victory in the bitterly fought Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat, has the reputation of being a trouble-shooter and strategist for the party.
The long-serving political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been one of the most powerful functionaries in the party. An organisational man, he had gently turned down offers to join the government at the centre by four prime ministers when the Congress was in power, according to party insiders.
A Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist, he has represented Gujarat seven times in Parliament — three-time as Lok Sabha member from Bharuch and four-time as Rajya Sabha member. The contest for fifth Rajya Sabha term turned out to be the most challenging for the 67-year-old leader.
Patel beat Balwantsinh Rajput, who was till recently the Congress’ chief whip in the state Assembly before switching over to BJP, polling 44 votes in the first Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat in two decades which saw a contest instead of official candidates of major parties getting elected unopposed.
He won after dramatic late night developments which saw the Election Commission rejecting the votes of two dissident MLAs of the main opposition party for violating electoral rules. “This is not just my victory. It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power, muscle power and abuse of state machinery,” Patel tweeted after his win. Party workers say he often has the final word on who should be the party chief in Gujarat or who should fight even a mayoral election.
Patel, a self-made politician, is the son of a social worker. He was born in a small village of Bharuch district in south Gujarat. He cut his teeth in the Youth Congress and went on to become its state president. Patel was just 28 when he was chosen to defend the party in the Lok Sabha election from Bharuch by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1977, which he won.
He then went on to win two more Lok Sabha elections back-to-back in 1980 and 1984. However, as the Hindutva wave started sweeping Gujarat since the late 1980s, propelling the BJP to the centre stage, Patel found it difficult to win a direct election. He lost the Lok Sabha election in 1990.
He took the Rajya Sabha route to Delhi in 1993. He was re-elected to the Upper House of Parliament in 1999, 2005 and 2011. “Patel is a soft-spoken but articulate person, who will never seek limelight. As the political secretary to the Congress president, he was the main contributor in cobbling up an alliance after the 2004 Lok Sabha polls to form the UPA-I, when the Congress got more seats than the BJP,” Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
Patel had a key role in running the UPA alliance, as a trusted lieutenant of Sonia Gandhi, during its 10 years in power from 2004 as he managed ties with the allies. He had also served as the Congress’ parliament secretary, treasurer and president of Gujarat unit.