When Pawar means Power: Ask Sharad Pawar what is two plus two, and he’ll answer – depends whether you are buying or selling. According to Rasheed Kidwai, Author – 24, Akbar Road this is an anecdote used by former PM Narasimha Rao to describe his bĂȘte noire. And certainly, as is clear from the recent events, Sharad Pawar certainly knows his political maths.

If there is one winner from the Maharashtra tangle it is the 79-year-old, Maratha still-going-strongman. There were those who were ready to round off his political legacy and had begun looking for his heirs thinking that after the 2019 Lok Sabha, Pawar was all set to fade into the sunset. Probably this is a mistake made by Ajit Pawar as well. Well, he certainly misread the signs. If there was one enduring image during the recent Maharashtra election campaign, it was Sharad Pawar standing drenched in the rain, addressing a crowd that had waited for him despite the downpour. This was one grassroots leader who knew all too well that ‘connect’ is not a hashtag on twitter that happens from the comforts of an airconditioned drawing-room. This was also not a leader who was on his way out but one who still had destinations to meet.

He is certainly one leader who keeps his cards close to his chest, which is why when the news of the early morning swearing-in broke, most suspected that the rebel nephew had the blessings of Snr Pawar. `Has Ajit done a Pawar on Sharad?’, quipped Samir Singh, a keen political observer.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeted ‘Pawarji tussi grt ho. Amazing if true‘ while Milind Deora — being Milind Deora — quoted a line from Godfather – Keep your friends close but your enemies closer’. They should’ve realised that with Sharad Pawar, they were dealing with the Original.

The first sign of Pawar’s gameplan was when he told the media (and the BJP) `this is not Manipur or Goa’. He was evoking Marathi pride. In one stroke it became a Marathas (Thackeray’s and Sharad Pawar) Vs the Brahmin (Fadnavis); it also became a Maharashtra Vs Gujarat battle. And then Pawar deployed all he had to ensure that he won this round.

Which makes one wonder, what transpired in the meeting between Pawar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Ostensibly to discuss drought, one can safely assume that the Maharashtra government crisis would have come up during this interaction. Did Pawar give any indication that he would support the BJP? For the biggest mystery in all this is how did the two ace strategists Amit Shah and Narendra Modi get taken in by Ajit Pawar. They must have done due diligence and been assured by someone other than just Ajit carrying a letter with 54 NCP signatures. Then again, Sharad Pawar is too shrewd a player to have outrightly misled Mod and Shah.

The only reasonable explanation is that he tacitly encouraged Ajit Pawar to go ahead and woo the BJP only to pull the rug from under him at a later stage. This manouvre effectively got Ajit Pawar out of the NCP leadership stakes and saw the emergence of Supriya Sule, who is easily her father’s preferred heir. Note, that it was not Praful Patel or any other NCP leader who was at Snr Pawar’s side doing damage control, reaching out to her rebel cousin, giving soundbites and whats-app status updates. During the three days of the Maharashtra crisis, it was Supriya Sule who was the most visible face of the NCP, apart from Pawar himself. And when the crisis was resolved, we knew all was well because there was Supriya hugging Aditya Thakeray in one television frame and reaching out to her estranged cousin Ajit Pawar in another. In fact, one reason why Pawar did not align with the BJP could be that Supriya has always been very vocal in her criticism against the BJP.

So, it’s still not clear what prompted Ajit Pawar to go on this politically suicidal mission, for apart from a CV Upgrade, he has got little else. Sharad Pawar, on the other hand, has emerged as the man of the match. There is now talk of him playing a larger national role in getting the opposition together to take on the BJP, for he has a good equation with Mamata Bannerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Stalin, the Abdullahs, even NDA allies like Nitish Kumar and the Badals. And as things stand today, he probably has more takers within the Congress, than the Gandhis themselves. Also, there is that unstated dream of being the first Maratha to rule over Delhi.

In the end, lets not forget what Chandrashekhar, another former Prime Minister but one who was a close friend of the Maratha leader, once said about Pawar – jab voh Pune mein rehta hain toh Shivaji se prerna lete hain, aur jab yahan aata hain toh jaane kiski prerna leta hai (When in Pune he is inspired by Shivaji but when in Delhi don’t know whom he is inspired by).

It is always best to end any profile of Sharad Pawar on an enigmatic note for there’s no definitive way to sum him up.

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