For a man who's been plotting and manoeuvering the political landscape for over four decades, electioneering could lose its appeal and excitement. Not for Sharad Pawar, president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). In fact, the strategist in him is tickled by the uncertainty that underscores this election. If he is worried by his non-flattering track record as agriculture minister in the outgoing government, he doesn't show it. If he's bothered by the seeming intransigence of his ally in Maharashtra, the Congress party that he once led in the state, he masks it well. If Sonia Gandhi's style of functioning unsettles him, he prefers not to discuss it. Maharashtra, he believes, will turn in results as in the 2004 polls; 48 seats splitting down the middle between the Congress-NCP coalition and the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.
At 69, Pawar does not have much to prove, or many ambitions to accomplish except occupy the office of the prime minister. Still, he has done things somewhat differently this election. For one, he segued out of his pocketborough Baramati, bequeathing the constituency to daughter Supriya Sule. Then, as he filed his nomination from Madha, in neighbouring Solapur district, he visited a temple—a rare break from his agnostic-bordering-on-atheist life. He allowed his second-rung leaders the space to chart out the campaign and schedules. He mended fences with erstwhile political foes, the Dutts, for example; he attended Priya Dutt's rally in Mumbai remarking that she was family.