Ahmed Patel's appointment as the Congress party treasurer has opened a little window of hope for the party's old guards under the young leadership of Rahul Gandhi that had earlier heralded big changes in the party’s upper echelons. At 69, Patel has for long been one of the main strategists of the party, working as political secretary of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He has a reputation of virtually being a backroom functionary of the party who shuns the limelight and keeps a low profile or has a self-effacing image.
Patel’s new role in the party points to the possibility that the GOP, or the grand old party, is not as blessed with funds now as used to be the case in the past. He replaces Motilal Vora who has been the virtual money god of the party for long. Patel is 20 years younger than his predecessor who would now be looking after administration as Congress general secretary. This will lighten some of the burdens of his party peer Ashok Gehlot. With the ascent of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress president in December 2017, Gehlot has been multitasking as a host of functions came his way.
Vora like Gehlot has had too much in his plate. Besides being treasurer of his party until the post went to Patel, Vora has been and will continue to be involved in running of the party's newspaper National Herald and its sister publications in Hindi and Urdu called Navjivan and Qaumi Awaz. Interestingly, Vora had taken over from Patel as treasurer of the AICC in the year 2000 and, thus, he is once again back to his old position.
Ahmed Patel hails from Gujarat. And significantly the change of his party's stewardship bringing Rahul to the helm took place alongside the Assembly polls in Gujarat. Congress had offered a stiff challenge to the BJP in these polls despite Gujarat being the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The tone for the battle in the state polls was, however, set by Patel's election to the Rajya Sabha held a few months before the Assembly polls in Gujarat. Patel won his Rajya Sabha seat, though by a whisker, it was so despite the BJP president Amit Shah's stiff opposition. The Congress also did better in the Assembly polls than the elections held in the past. So much so that the polls outcome was claimed by party satraps as a sign of the possible revival of Congress' chances and fortunes.
Polls in Karnataka followed soon after Gujarat where the outcome for Congress was bad enough to dislodge it from power. Yet, the party checkmated a takeover of the state by the BJP. HD Kumaraswamy became Chief Minister through the combined strength of his Janata Dal-Secular and Rahul Gandhi's Congress party. The virtual coup in Karnataka against the BJP that had emerged as the single largest party in the state polls again reminded of Patel's successful elections to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat despite the Congress hardly having enough numbers to make him win and the BJP being all set to thwart Congress' plans.
Through all these polls, the Congress felt lack of money, resources and clout as compared to the BJP. And, thus, there have ever since been talks about better mobilisation of men and resources by the Congress to match the might of the saffron party. About BJP's veritable electorate savvy shows Congress often alleges that the distinction between the BJP and the Government run by it gets lost as both come together to impress the people. Patel is known for his acumen in respect to organising funds for the party. So much so that the BJP has often been trying to catch him on the wrong foot as he is rightly or wrongly reputed to have been the main cash handler of his party during the period the Congress was in power.
With the Congress now in the cold at the Centre as also in so many states, Patel again faces a test of sorts to meet the high cost of putting a weak party on its feet. The party has indeed been becoming too weak over the years in terms of means and resources to take on the formidable BJP in coming state elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh besides next year's countrywide polls for the new Parliament.
Thus, Patel's ascent to the post of Congress treasurer will be keenly watched by both his friends and foes. And if money makes the mare go, the task before Patel is too daunting to be underestimated in any case. How far he succeeds would only be known in the months or less than a year at the most. His success or failure will also determine the fate of some of his contemporaries in the party since many of them had to relinquish their party positions in the wake of its reins now in the hands of Rahul Gandhi.