His party battered by multiple desertions just ahead of the Maharashtra polls, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is the consummate politician who may be down but has just told the political world that he refuses to be out.
In an election expected to be a one-sided affair with a BJP-Shiv Sena sweep, the Nationalist Congress Party on Thursday was poised to win 53 seats, just four behind the Shiv Sena. Upping its 2014 tally of 41, the Pawar-led NCP also overturned the power equation with "big brother" Congress, which was ahead in 46 seats.
The icing on the cake was the NCP's win in the Satara Lok Sabha bypoll, with the party's candidate Shriniwas Patil defeating the BJP's Udayanraje Bhosale, who had left the NCP to join the saffron party.
The credit for pulling out the party from the depths of an existential crisis goes to the doughty 79-year-old, who has five decades in politics behind him and has proved once again that he is made of sterner political mettle than his detractors would give him credit for, insiders said.
With several NCP leaders jumping the ship ahead of the Assembly polls, the never-say-die NCP patriarch went about reviving its prospects by going on a whirlwind tour of the constituencies it contested.
Frail in health, he took on the BJP's leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on key issues like the agrarian crisis and Article 370.
Thursday's results are an indication that Pawar's charisma is intact, said NCP spokesperson Sanjay Tatkare.
"The NCP gaining 54 seats and the Congress nearly retaining its 2014 tally after the BJP and Shiv Sena predicted 220 seats for themselves, talks about his charisma. This election will be remembered for the fight put up by Pawar Saheb," Tatkare said.
Pawar has been a defence minister, opposition leader in the Lok Sabha and three-time Maharashtra chief minister in a career spanning 52 years.
He was a member of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the Lok Sabha for seven times each.
Pawar, a former Congress leader, shot to fame in 1978 when he dislodged the then Vasant Patil dispensation in the state to form a government with the Janata Party. He was only 38 at the time and is Maharashtra's youngest chief minister till date.
He went on to become chief minister of the state two more times between June 1988 and June 1991 and from March 1993 and March 1995.
Pawar served as defence minister from June 1991 to March 1993.
The veteran leader parted ways with the Congress in 1999 over party president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin issue and formed the NCP in the same year. The Congress and NCP came together following the 1999 Assembly election in Maharashtra to form government in the state.
Pawar became Agriculture minister in the Manmohan Singh government 2004 and served over the next 10 years. Often accused by his rivals of encouraging dynastic politics, Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule is a three-time MP from Baramati, the NCP's stronghold.
His nephew Ajit, former Maharashtra deputy chief minister, will be representing the Baramati Assembly segment for sixth time in a row. Pawar's grand nephew Rohit too will enter the lower House for the first time with the latter's victory over BJP contender Ram Shinde from Karjat-Jamkhed seat.
Apart from politics, Pawar has been associated with cricket bodies including the International Cricket Council and Maharashtra State Wrestling Association.