Beware 'kingmaker' Patel and friend of Sonia

Vol 14, PW 9 (21 Oct 10) People & Policy

Legend has it he can raise Rs60cr ($13m) for India’s ruling Congress party within an hour by making a few calls to his high-profile private sector contacts.

He can also make or break careers at state-owned companies and was hectically lobbied by candidates who appeared for the ONGC chairman interviews (see above). Meet 61-year old Ahmed Patel (left), political secretary to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and reclusive ‘kingmaker’.

“As the eyes and ears of Sonia Gandhi and her undisputed 'gatekeeper',” says a senior Congress party source, “‘Ahmedbhai’ enjoys unparalleled clout. This may sound clichéd, but he is Sonia Gandhi’s right hand man.

” Patel is a hard figure to pin down. The mere mention of his name can make the most arrogant of Indian bureaucrats reach for anti-anxiety medication.

But he shuns publicity and rarely gives interviews to the media. “You will hardly ever see his photograph anywhere and you will never see him on television,” says an observer.

“Ahmedbhai doesn’t need to flaunt his power. Everyone knows he’s second only to Sonia.

” Patel, he adds, is a man of simple tastes. “He never throws parties nor does he believe in entertaining,” we hear.

“He hates gossip and has no patience for small talk.” Patel is also known for being highly “organised” and working late into the night at his 23 Willingdon Crescent residence in Delhi.

He doesn’t hesitate to wake central government ministers, chief ministers or senior Congress party leaders with a phone call if he has a query or a command for them. Patel draws his power from his association with former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the early 1980s when both were about the same age.

After Rajiv’s assassination on May 21, 1991, Patel stood solidly by grieving widow Sonia. “He proved his loyalty then,” we hear, “and is now reaping the rewards.