Ahmed Patel as I knew him
Polite and hospitable he wore his authority lightly, which is why it is so difficult to forget a man like him, recalls Yoginder K Alagh, noted economist and former chairman of IRMA, Anand
I got to know Ahmed Patel in 1979 after returning to Gujarat following my stint as the head of the powerful PPD of the Planning Commission, to my academic job.
On my return, in spite of my hesitation, I had to take on the planning of the Sardar Sarovar Project in an honorary capacity. Bharuch is very important for the Narmada and Ahmed Patel was there.
He would feed me with Patel hospitality. In Gujarat, more than two thirds of the population are non-vegetarian, but they largely eat vegetables and meat is like a garnish: thoda sa for taste. I would sit with him, would take him to Kevadia at the Dams head to see the action himself and push him as a Rajya Sabha member to raise our brief in Delhi. He willingly obliged.
I had come back from Delhi but my friend Arjun Sengupta was insistent that I return and finally I agreed to take an assignment in Delhi again, with a specific mandate. Ahmed Bhai was to become a little later one of the powerful Three Musketeers: the other two being Oscar Fernandes and Arun Singh. Now he wanted me to do things for him.
But he was the quintessential Patel: confident, never super imposing: always business like, very polite and never carrying a grudge, if you said: 'non che possibley' as they would in Roma.
He once brought a friend of his to see me in Yojana Bhavan. I got him coffee and listened to him. I told him what he wanted was not possible because defence establishments could be moved. The friend said, 'Mr Alagh, tamay munhfat cho' (Mr. Alagh you are outspoken.) Ahmed Bhai told him 'Dr. Alagh is not a politician and so is frank. You should be happy.' There were other occasions and we kept in touch, both officially and socially.
I came back to Ahmedabad again but we remained in touch. UGC decided to ask me to chair a committee to select Vice Chancellors of Universities in Saurashtra. One of the members was a well-known Chairman of an Education Trust, who had close RSS links. In fact, in spite of my fears he turned out to be very professional. But I wanted to sew up the matter in case he changed his mind. In life you always anticipate the Black Swan. If you cannot face them, surround them, Mao Ze Dong had said. So, I decided to surround him as the Bose Speakers say.
We would hold meetings in Delhi and invite distinguished academics to tell us the drill for selecting VCs. I also decided to invite Ahmed bhai, knowing his reputation in Gujarat. He willingly agreed and we arranged a lunch at the IIC. When we went there, Ahmed bhai had cancelled my table, booked one himself, so that the banner of Patel hospitality was kept afloat.
In the aftermath of the 2002 riots, he scrupulously avoided a religious colour to the rehabilitation efforts he was involved in. A leader with ideals. A man who led up to the end. They don’t make them like him anymore.