The old Maratha, declared as ‘over’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has come back fighting. And dealt the BJP a blow, that has not only exposed the party but also humiliated it on the national scale. In the process Sharad Pawar, all of 78 years and a cancer survivor, has demonstrated that he is still top man in Maharashtra, and cannot be messed around with.

The drama over the past few days actually has its genesis in BJP President Amit Shah’s rally in Solapur on September 1 where he attacked Pawar for not doing anything for the farmers. “Sharad Pawar should call a press conference and give the details of how much financial help he had given so far to Maharashtra,” Shah said while concluding the second leg of the ‘Maha Janadesh Yatra’ ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections.

Pawar responded a few days later with an angry,“Some people have questioned what Sharad Pawar has done? I want to tell them, Sharad Pawar has never been in jail for his actions. Those who were in jail are now asking what I have done.” And informed his family subsequently that he would not be returning home till the final day of the campaign.

It was clear that Pawar was angry, and the fire that his critics claimed had ebbed, resurfaced with full fury. Pawar called all the chips in and masterminded the campaign for not just the NCP but also the Congress party. He kept close contact with the Shiv Sena and Udhav Thackeray as he worked on the numbers to ensure that the BJP did not get the requisite majority to form the government on its own.

Pawar dominated not just the campaign, but the post poll scenario where he worked on the Shiv Sena to part ways with the BJP, and tackled the Congress and Sonia Gandhi to agree to a three party coalition in Maharashtra. Valuable time was lost, largely because of Congress vacillation, and the BJP managed to turn the tables through literally a midnight swoop where it brought in Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar and a bunch of NCP MLAs to stake claim to the government. Aided by the Governor, the BJP got on to the saddle but did not reckon with Pawar whose reputation was at stake, the more so as the media started questioning him for playing a double game.

It was from this moment on vintage Pawar. Never one to lose his temper publicly, always appearing calm and composed Pawar went to work to bring back the MLAs from his party, and ensure that the Shiv Sena and the Congress stayed together with the NCP. He made it clear from the word go ---and this despite the initial uncertainty ---that the NCP legislators were all on the way back to his fold, that they had been misled by Pawar, even as he and others contacted the legislators and convinced them that the BJP would never be able to form the government. Come back and all will be forgotten was the message that worked, and within hours the trickle back started. In fact by the end of 24 hours, Pawar was busy providing an honourable return route for Ajit Pawar as well, despite his selling loyalty to the BJP in return for the Deputy Chief Ministers post.

Pawar managed the Congress in Maharashtra, and used the strength of the Shiv Sena to keep the flock of legislators together. That he is able to inspire confidence despite the media campaign, was clear when Udhav Thackeray reposed all trust in him, as did the Congress that virtually outsourced its management of the Maharashtra until to Sharad Pawar. The two pronged strategy worked, the coalition held and the NCP legislators returned with the alliance totting up 162 legislators despite the extra days given by the Supreme Court to the BJP. Finally the apex court ruled for a trust vote, and the BJP stepped down as it became clear that the legislators had united, and were not breaking apart.

Pawar was the glue that held all together. He made it clear that despite his age, he could not be bullied and expected respect from all, including Shah and the BJP. He was also able to persuade his own party and the Congress to let Udhav Thackeray remain the Chief Minister for five years, sure in the knowledge that the government would in effect be run by him given his deep knowledge of Maharashtra, and the pulse of both the coalition allies.

He micro managed the process and every legislator. He worked on individual relationships and used trust and long association as the barter. He examined every loose end and tied it with personal phone calls, and visits. He did not allow ego to come in the way, and worked his way through the legislators and the leaders to ensure that no one left, and all returned.

The allies are now ready to stake claim and form the government in Maharashtra. And the Maratha strongman who never betrayed a sign of nervousness or anger, can go home with a smile on his face. At 78 he has vindicated his politics.