The Two Gentlemen in Politics
RIP Ahmed Patel and Tarun Gogoi
If there is any one way to describe Congressmen Ahmed Patel and Tarun Gogoi it would be —gentlemen. And while this might seem understated it is not. As both of them managed to hold out against the deteriorating political climate, and retain their sanity and their character amidst turbulent tides, nurturing their private space while dealing with the world.
Ahmed Patel guarded his privacy jealously. He did not want to appear in the media, good or bad. A word here or there and we would get a phone call, starting with the gentlemanly enquiries of health and well being, and moving into a “I saw a report….” With a gentle “why, what was the need…” Even a critical report that clearly disturbed him would elicit a soft response, but instead of the odd word a couple of sentences of protest and clarification.
He was accessible. But had developed his own pattern of response. Monosyllables and we in the media had learnt to interpret his cryptic ‘yes’ and ‘no’ that we often expanded into political copy. Ahmed bhai as most scribes called him never lied. And that had gained him a certain credibility although for the less political, his cryptic responses were seen as evasion. For the more political journalists, a revelation.
He never bragged, or threw around his proximity to Sonia Gandhi. He refused to entertain questions about the family, and particularly about her who he had clearly sworn to serve as long as he could. A quiet, unassuming politician he did crack the whip albeit in gentle tones, and was at periodic intervals easily the most important and powerful man in the Congress dispensation. But he never gave you a sense of that, always humble, smiling, hospitable and generous with his time if not his words.
I remember him agitated only once, enough to speak several paragraphs instead of just his one liners. Amidst allegations that he was close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he clarified without being asked how the PM had visited him as he was not well, had spoken of Gujarati food, and since a particular dish had been made in his house, he invited Modi to join him for lunch. It was as simple as that, but given his position in the Congress this had set tails wagging. And he had enemies within and without, he knew it but not once did one hear a name from his lips, or a word against any particular individual.
He was not ambitious in terms of being a Minister or holding a big portfolio. He was very happy being the power behind the power, and allowed loyalty define his relationship with the Congress President. He was a master strategist, determining relations between the Congress and the Opposition, and the Congress party within. And was happy having Sonia Gandhi’s ear without hankering for the visible trappings that entice politicians. He had no interest in an official position, and liked to work the strings from the back. As far out of the spotlights as possible. Soft spoken, loyal , generous to those who he considered part of his inner circle.
Tarun Gogoi, a traditional Congressman, a gentleman in the party. His big smile always broke the ice, and as a young reporter covering Assam one found him highly accessible. He never closed the door, always gave the extra minute, and answered questions without every being patronising. A major plus in a politician, genteel and warm always. It was unfortunate that he suffered the usual Congress shove and push during his long years in politics that disturbed him deeply, but never made him give up his passion for politics, the party, and the people of Assam. He was always open to ideas, loved a discussion, and even when he did not have the time made the time for a quick chat. He did not hesitate to describe himself as a ‘loyalist’ but did so with a big smile and twinkling eyes that bespoke independence of thought and action.
Gogoi’s biggest achievement, to my mind, was to pull Assam out of the era of conflict and violence onto the path of peace and some level of development. He did not like undue interference from the centre, and often shared his thoughts about the same when he first came in as the chief minister. With reason, as he walked that talk unlike those seeking to advise him in New Delhi.
The Congress has lost two valuable stalwarts in Ahmed Patel and Tarun Gogoi. One younger, one ageing and suffering from ill health for a while. The party will miss them and their voices of reason, unsullied by cheap competitive angst.
Politics will miss them.