Is Ahamed Patel no more a Sonia Gandhi man?
Live Punjab News Service
Is Ahamed Patel, for long Congress president Sonia Gandhi's most trusted political secretary, no longer in her good books? If circles close to Gandhi are to be believed, it may be so.
Insiders say Patel has been rapidly slipping from the position of being Gandhi's closest confidant while Ambika Soni, who had been edged out by his elevation, is slowly finding her way back into the coterie.
Patel, who according to some party leaders was responsible for the banishment of Ambika Soni from 10 Janpath a few months ago, no longer reportedly enjoys the trust and confidence of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson.
The post of political secretary to the Congress president enjoys tremendous clout. All Congress chief ministers and party leaders and even cabinet ministers need to get past him to discuss political affairs with Gandhi. Ambika Soni held the position earlier.
After Ambika Soni's fall, the 57-year-old Patel became the political eyes and ears of Gandhi. He was considered the last word for Congress party appointments. State Congress leaders vied with one another to be friendly with the Rajya Sabha MP.
His influence at 10 Janpath, Gandhi's residence in the heart of the city, had disturbed many veterans. According to party sources, one senior Congress leader had conducted a special pooja to "save" Gandhi from Patel's "black magic".
However, now for reasons unknown to many leaders, Patel's once dominant hold in the Gandhi household is an old chapter.
"Due to several reasons, Soniaji does not seem to be relying on Patel like before. It is also true that many leaders who are close to her are not very fond of Patel," said an insider.
Some sources say a public interest suit filed in the Supreme Court against him in June and related to an alleged sex racket may be linked to Patel's misfortunes. The victim, a 21-year-old woman from Uttaranchal, later withdrew the case. Patel had called the allegations a "conspiracy" against him.
"The Congress president may be interested in picking up another political secretary," the source added.
Ambika Soni is reportedly trying to return to the post in a desperate bid to retrieve lost glory.
The fall of Ambika Soni, once known as the most powerful woman in the Congress after Gandhi, had been swift ever since Patel secured prominence in Gandhi's coterie.
According to sources close to Ambika Soni, who began life in the Congress as a trusted aide of the late Sanjay Gandhi, she decided to opt for a cabinet berth after sensing a threat to her position in the party around mid-2005.
Ambika Soni, who had all along maintained that she would not take up a ministerial berth, began her efforts to find a place in the cabinet immediately after the UPA completed one year in power.
Although it was rumoured that she would be given the information and broadcasting portfolio, she had to be satisfied with the less important tourism ministry. Since then, her influence in the party has further waned.
The 63-year-old Soni was later relegated to being just another party leader. Her fading glory was very much evident at party functions.
Some of her aides complain that the power struggle in the party has even prevented her from getting a good office in the parliament building despite being a cabinet minister and a senior leader.
Congress sources also indicated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to give Ambika Soni an important portfolio.
"She has been a good coordinator and sincere worker. Her experience should be used more effectively," said a senior leader who did not want to be identified.