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Rahul 'differed' with Ahmed Patel, a Sonia confidante, on aligning with Shiv Sena

By Anand K Sahay*

Ahmed Patel, who died at the relatively early age of 71 in the small hours of November 25, was much of the time a creative political force in his own right, although all his actions were in the name of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, currently her party’s interim president.
He was no apparatchik -- an expression of Russian Communist Party lineage given a derogatory connotation in English usage to denote a faceless, nameless, mindless, party bureaucrat. Patel was none of those things, although in careless hands and in careless speech he has sometimes been spoken of in those inaccurate -- and regrettable -- terms.
He was instead an indispensable personal aide to the Congress president who could be creative in solving problems, unobtrusively combative in defence of his party’s and leadership’s interest, and was respected among politicians across the aisle though he held no high public office and was just one among many MPs.
Last year Patel camped in Mumbai to ensure that the Congress became a part of the three-party ruling coalition headed by Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray to displace the BJP, to whose national power the state of Maharashtra contributed inordinately.
Congress’ inclusion was on terms that were acceptable to the top Congress leadership since the Sena had been seen as a communal party and Rahul Gandhi appeared to have reservations that were being sought to be exploited by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Congress being inserted into the ruling scheme was achieved through skillful negotiations conducted by Patel.
In these negotiations, he acted as the instrument and the principal since he commanded the implicit trust of Sonia Gandhi and didn’t have to look over his shoulder or to await instructions at any stage. In her homage on the passing of an invaluable colleague, Sonia Gandhi has been respectful, calling her late colleague an “irreplaceable comrade” and “friend”. Such expressions denote parity and trust. 
Patel was quiet. He didn’t discuss or run down the vilest political opponents even in private. He seldom declined to see a journalist one on one and on those occasions could be frank in his assessment of a situation even if it was to his party’s disadvantage.
His independent status was clear. He had first come to New Delhi, having won the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat in 1977 when the Congress Party was wiped out in upper India. Then in 2017, the way he won his Rajya Sabha seat is a saga on which a thrilling film can be made. 
He defeated every machination of the BJP which ran the state government and the Centre and had the resources with which it made MLAs defect and back-stab their former colleagues. This famous win set the stage alight and became the precursor to the Congress nearly winning the Gujarat Assembly election the same year.
This writer had first met Patel on the field of cricket in a journalist versus parliamentarian cricket game in 1985, when he had just been made parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He was self-effacing then and also when he was congratulated after beating the BJP in the Rajya Sabha stakes in 2017 -- smiling shyly.
---
*Senior journalist based in Delhi

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