Ahmed Bhai, a friend and one of the few political leaders who inspired respect

A man of few words, he would listen more and speak less. He was not known for dropping names, loose talk or gossip. No wonder he had friends across the political spectrum, recalls Shahid Siddiqui

Ahmed Bhai, a friend and one of the few political leaders who inspired respect

Shahid Siddiqui

I met Ahmed Patel in 1980 for the first time as a journalist.

He mostly preferred to remain away from lime light but I persuaded him to give an interview to my weekly Nai Duniya. Even then I was impressed by his very precise responses to the most provocative questions. I came to know him in last thirty-five years both as a politician and friend. What held him above other politicians in Delhi was his honesty and dedication not only to the Congress Party but to basic moral values of public life. While many leaders protected their personal interests at the cost of the party, Ahmed Bhai did everything rising above his own political and personal interests.

Ahmed Patel was one of the finest Congressman in modern times, especially after the demise of the generation of leaders groomed by Indira Gandhi. Congress was in shambles in the post-Narsimha Rao period and with the emergence of NDA, future seemed to be bleak for Congress. It was pragmatic, realistic, dedicated hard work of Ahmed Patel and few others, which allowed UPA, led by Indian National Congress to form a government in Delhi in 2004. His networking abilities, his humble demeanor, his ability to listen to everyone and then give a sane and practical advice to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was what kept UPA together and allowed it to come back to power with larger numbers in 2009.

There came many occasions when this twenty-four or more parties’ ragtag alliance would have collapsed, but for the persuasive abilities of Ahmed Bhai. Political analysts call him troubleshooter for Sonia Gandhi, in my view he was Sankat Mochak and firefighter for the Congress Party.

On 7th December 1992, a day after the demolition of Babri Masjid, I sent my resignation from the Congress Party. I was an AICC member and part of a Committee with Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh ji, K. R. Narayanan Saheb, called, ‘Pamphlet Committee’. Ahmed Bhai immediately rushed to my house and said if you resign I will also resign, and if we Muslims resign from Congress in large numbers, would we be helping the cause of Secularism or damaging it? Ultimately a call from Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who in a way was my political Guru, persuaded me to withdraw my resignation. Much later I learned that Ahmed Bhai had requested Comrade Surjeet to call me and desist from resigning from the Congress Party.

Ahmed Bhai was famous for his nighttime politics when he would call friends and opponents for advice and information. He was fond of good food and would suddenly ring me up at night saying, ‘Yaar can I come to have a few kebabs at your house’. He used to come alone without fanfare at midnight and chat. He was a political animal, who breathed Congress politics twenty-four-seven, but never tried to harm even his worst opponents.

Ahmed Bhai was ears and eyes to Sonia Ji in the most crucial days of her Presidentship. Her ability to take everyone along and keep the party together made Congress a force again, but no less was the contribution of Ahmed Bhai, who didn’t hesitate in sacrificing even his close friends if the party’s interest demanded it and advised Sonia Ji accordingly. He was one Congressman who had hundreds of critics and opponents but no enemies. Even most bitter enemies of the Congress Party could speak to Ahmed Bhai in confidence, knowing that their faith will never be betrayed.

Congress has no replacement for Ahmed Patel, at a juncture when he is required most. His contribution to Indian democracy and Secularism is immense. At a time when politicians of all hues and parties are losing respect in the eyes of the common man, Ahmed Patel will be missed much more for his cool, unemotional, positive attitude.

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