In this file photo dated Aug 29, 2017, Congress leader Ahmed Patel being felicitated at the party's "Satya Vijay Sammelan" in Surat, Gujarat
In this file photo dated Aug 29, 2017, Congress leader Ahmed Patel being felicitated at the party's "Satya Vijay Sammelan" in Surat, Gujarat

For decades, Ahmed Patel managed to dodge the limelight as he remained one of the key players of Indian polity, advising Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the party's turbulent years as well as during its 10-year rule from 2004-2014.

The veteran Congress leader, 71, breathed his last on Wednesday, after his fight against COVID-19 came to an end.

A staunch loyalist of Nehru-Gandhi family, Ahmed Patel was one of the very few people who worked with three generations of Congress leadership. Winning his first Lok Sabha polls in 1977, at the age of 28, at a time when the Congress was all but wiped out in the first post-Emergency election, he worked closely with Indira Gandhi. Later, he worked with Rajiv Gandhi, his widow Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi.

A quintessential organisation man, Patel had cross-party connections and direct access to senior opposition leaders as well as those in the government.

Winning three Lok Sabha election, representing the party in Rajya Sabha five times, Patel never took up a ministerial position during his 43 years of public. He is said to have repeatedly turned down the offers to join the central government when the Congress was in power.

This, he said, was due to a decision he took in 1986, two years after Indira Gandhi's death.

In an autobiographical article he wrote for Ahmedabad Mirror, Patel said he decided that he will work for the sangathan and not take up any ministerial position. It was at a time the Congress, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, was in power with brute majority. After losing the next election, the grand old party was again back in power in 1992. After a seven-year hiatus from 1997-2004, the Congress again returned to power in alliance with other parties and ruled the Centre for the next 10 years.

Although, one of the most powerful leaders during the 10-year UPA rule, Patel kept his word and worked behind the scenes and never took up a ministerial position.

By his own admission, he was "terribly media-shy" and rarely spoke to the press. This was probably one of the reasons he never wanted a positionw where he would have address press conferences and give interview.

In the years he has been associated with the Congress, Patel became the go-to man in the party, the ultimate backroom strategist, who kept a low profile but quietly wielded power and meticulously executed decisions of the leadership. As Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, he served as an effective link between the party and government during 10 years of the UPA government. As a confidante of Sonia Gandhi, he had her eyes and ears like no other Congress leader ever had.

In a world where Sonia Gandhi rarely trusted anyone, Patel became her "irreplaceable comrade, a faithful colleague and a friend".

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Free Press Journal