The late Ahmed Patel’s village in Ankleshwar taluka in Bharuch district is buzzing. His daughter Mumtaz Patel Siddiqui is supervising the transfer of his stuff from his office to their ancestral home in Piraman, and villagers are still talking of how the family marked the late Congress leader’s 73rd birth anniversary on August 21. There was a blood donation camp, while stationery, uniforms and clothes were distributed to the poor.
One of Patel’s closest aides, Nazubhai Fadwala, says anyone in Piraman would attest to how the late Congress leader was available for all in need of help. “He made careers of many people, including mine; he helped students, and many of them are now doctors and engineers or have set up businesses, joined industries. He was a man with a golden heart.”
In the power circles, Patel was equally well known as the man who had the ear of Congress president Sonia Gandhi through good times and bad, as the keeper of many party secrets, and as the Congress’s most influential Gujarat leader.
It’s nearly two years since Patel died from complications arising out of Covid. Months to go for the state Assembly polls, the Congress seems to be playing catch-up to even newbie Aam Aadmi Party. The Patels have mostly kept out of view, till recently, when in the wake of the remission of sentence of 11 convicts for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of 14 members of her family, Mumtaz expressed her disapproval.
In a wide-ranging interview to The Indian Express, Mumtaz Patel, 45, talks about life after her father, getting used to not having a home in Delhi, the state of the Congress, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s help at the time of Patel’s illness. Excerpts:
Can you describe the period your father was ailing?
He was first admitted, on October 7, 2020, at Metro Hospital in Faridabad, where our family doctor worked. Later, we shifted him to Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon, where he stayed till his death. It was impossible to know what was happening with him as the hospital authorities would update us only once during the day, in the evening. Not knowing who else to turn to, my brother Faisal and I eventually contacted PM Modi and sought his help. His personal doctors got in touch with Medanta Hospital and soon we were getting regular updates. PM Modi also shared his OSD’s numbers and told us to contact him for any help. Home Minister Amit Shah also called us up and offered support.
The PM was among the first persons to call us, at 4.30 am, when my father died on November 25, 2020, followed by Soniaji. Rahul Gandhi would call twice when my father was in hospital, in the morning and evening.
In February last year, Faisal and I visited PM Modi in Parliament House to thank him for all his help. The Budget Session was on but he met us in his office for a good 20 minutes. There was no agenda, we just talked generally.
How has life been since your father’s death?
We had lived in the government house allotted to my father as a Rajya Sabha MP in Delhi for 28 years. Faisal and his family, and my mother were staying there when father died. They had to vacate it within six months. Faisal was under medication for an ailment, and continues to be. I was in Piraman looking after my father’s work. We struggled to search for a house amidst the pandemic. We saw many houses, but the moment the owners came to know that we were children of Ahmed Patel, they would turn us away, perhaps apprehensive that we might not vacate and they would be helpless. Madamji (Sonia Gandhi) told some Congress leaders to help us, but even that did not work.
Finally, we got a house on rent through an acquaintance of our father, near where I have a rented house in Delhi. My mother is not happy in this house. It was a reality check for us, that Ahmed Patel’s widow and her son struggled to get a house during Covid in Delhi.
We had asked father to buy a house in Delhi multiple times, but he kept putting it off as we already had government accommodation. A majority of the immovable assets owned by my parents are ancestral properties, in Bharuch. The house in Gandhinagar is also allotted to us by the government as father was a Lok Sabha MP.
Ahmed Patel’s name has come up in the money laundering case involving the Sandesara brothers.
His name was illegally dragged in to keep him embroiled in a legal battle. The family suffered as a result. Over 90% of my husband’s clients have stopped doing business with him as they are afraid the Enforcement Directorate may raid them next.
And see the chargesheet in the case. My father is not even in the list of accused. The raids caused mental, emotional, financial, all kinds of stress, and we are still dealing with it.
(The case involves charges that Nitin Sandesara, the owner of the Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech pharma group, willfully defaulted on bank loans worth Rs 5,383 crore and diverted them for personal use. The case is sub-judice and none of Patel’s family members has been called for questioning.)
How do you see the situation of the Congress in the state?
I see the repercussions hitting after 2024. The Congress history in the state will always be written as ‘Before AP (Ahmed Patel)’ and ‘After AP’. It was he who kept the people and leaders united. If anybody said he wanted to leave the party, he would convince them to stay. He also had good relations with Opposition leaders, who too had faith in him and respected him. The vacuum left by his absence will never be filled. Currently, there is nobody to listen to workers in the party. It is a very big problem (faced by the party) across the country.
My father was not a very ambitious person, so he was not seen as a competition by others and they liked and felt comfortable with him. Today, there is a lot of mistrust.
Do you see you or your brother carrying forward your father’s political legacy?
Back in August 2020, I mentioned to my father once that I wanted to join politics and work under him. He told me no, ‘politics is a dirty thing’. I told him, ‘Now you are around, but what of in the future?’. I told him to give me one month to decide.
At present, we are still trying to put everything in place. Faisal needs medical attention, and I am looking after him, my mother, my own family and my father’s philanthropic work. It is what the people want, that somebody continues the legacy of Ahmed Patel, and so the doors of our house are always open for anyone who needs help.
As for politics, I have been interested in it, I will definitely consider it, but it is too early to say anything. My main concern right now is my brother and my father’s philanthropic work.
What about contesting elections?
Not the coming Assembly elections, but I may think about the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. I hope to understand politics (till then) from Congress workers and leaders who were close to my father.
You put out a video statement on the release of those convicted for murder and gangrape in the Bilkis Bano case.
I wrote to PM Narendra Modi on the release of the 11 convicts and to condemn the Gujarat government’s stand. This case is not about a Hindu or a Muslim but about a henious crime committed on a pregnant woman and the murder of her family members. In the Nirbhaya gangrape case, the people came together as one. Similarly, in this case, people should come out and condemn the Gujarat government’s decision.
Bilkis Bano is suffering mental and physical trauma. Everybody has to speak about it. I am a mother, I have two daughters, what justice can I expect? I don’t think even a life sentence is enough for such convicts.
Many old loyalists of Ahmed Patel have left the Congress in Gujarat and joined the BJP, such as Naresh Raval and Rajubhai Parmar.
I have come to know that lots of people are leaving the Congress. There is nobody to listen to them. Their voices have not been heard, they feel it is better to move on to other parties. They have lost their godfather (Ahmed Patel). There are many leaders but the workers don’t know whom to get in touch with.