Ajit Pawar, in an early morning 'jhappi' with his cousin Supriya Sule at the Maharashtra Legislature on Wednesday, furnished due optics that the "estranged" NCP leader is back in the fold. Later in the day, he attended the NCP legislative party meeting and addressed the MLAs, saying that he never left the party. Sources say that he is being tipped as the party floor leader in due course.
But his abrupt change in course has led to eyebrows being raised and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Eknath Khadse questioning former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over his decision to in align with the allegedly tainted Pawar junior. The question doing rounds within the BJP now is whether Ajit Pawar's "defection" was meant to lure the BJP in forming the government, before he jumped the ship midway.
While the BJP has been caught unaware of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar's moves and that the fact that the junior Pawar had succumbed to pressure so soon has caused doubts in many BJP leaders, said an insider.
The BJP is trying to ascertain if the moves made by Pawar senior were a scripted coup which the party could not anticipate, said a leader. While the NCP chief has been biggest gainer with Ajit Pawar getting a "clean chit" from the Anti-Corruption Bureau and daughter Supriya Sule getting settled as 'Gen Next' leader as she was seen receiving all the MLAs in the assembly.
The Lok Sabha MP from Baramati, who has been in the shadows of her father and cousin has emerged the undisputed heir apparent of the NCP patriarch. With the "revolt" of the junior Pawar, the NCP supremo has given a subtle message to the alliance partners that without him, the government can fall any day.
But Ajit Pawar has also proved that he has clout in his party. On Tuesday, at the Hotel Trident, where the joint legislature party meeting of the alliance partners -- the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress -- was being held, there were placards reading: "We love you, Ajit Dada Pawar", though he has not present.
Having "turned the tables" on his mentor and uncle Sharad Pawar on Saturday, Ajit Pawar on Tuesday seem to have succumbed to the persuasion of his extended family and resigned as Deputy Chief Minister, bringing down the short-lived Fadnavis government.
The 'deal' or an understanding in the Pawar family is not yet public, but sources say the family is closely-knit and even celebrated 'Bhai Dooj' together in the glare of the cameras. The nephew, like his uncle, is unpredictable and temperamental, said a party insider. He often sings one of Kishore Kumar's best songs: "Mere dil mein aaj kya hai, tu kahe to me bata doon" (What lies in my heart, if you ask, I can tell you). But what is really in the heart of Ajit Pawar, perhaps nobody knows.