Akola (Maharashtra): Known for his sense of humour, often targeting his own supporters, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar on Wednesday asked some party activists at an event here -"Have I become old?" - leaving the gathering in splits.
His remarks came at an election rally in Balapur for his party candidate Sangram Gawande, where a former legislator and office-bearer, Tukaram Bidkar, described Pawar as a "beloved 80-year old leader", extolling his virtues and his long 55-year plus political career.
When it was the NCP President's turn on the microphone, he said he liked everything about Bidkar's introductory speech, barring one point.
"I am an 80-year old leader....so have I become old?" the 78-year old Pawar raised his eyebrows and demanded in an incredulous tone even as the gathering roared with laughter.
Signalling them to be silent with a flourish of his hand, Pawar continued: 'Abhi to main jawaan hoon' (I am still young). I will first pack off everybody before going home!"
As the audience controlled themselves, Pawar sagely turned his head to the crouching Bidkar on the dais and mockingly requested him not to throw about his age like this - "After all, I am your party president...!"
A fit and sprightly Pawar has hit the campaign trail earnestly for the second time in six months after the Lok Sabha elections with a grueling schedule that can overawe many decades younger to him.
Amidst the canvassing, he also takes time off to tackle controversies like the recent instance of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) naming him in the alleged Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam.
This was followed by an upheaval in the NCP with his nephew and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar quitting as legislator.
Added to the crises are the open provocations by top leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to "erase the influence of Pawars from Maharashtra politics by 2024", besides the occasional barbs from the Shiv Sena.
This was taken a step further when state BJP President Chandrakant Patil declared on QWednesday that they "ensure" Sharad Pawar "retires from political and social life forever" after the October 21 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
However, Pawar has apparently taken it all in his stride, dismissing all challenges and allegations with his characteristic grin - and a rare political magnanimity.
The politically powerful Pawar clan comprises his daughter Supriya Sule, nephew Ajit Pawar, his son Parth, and grand-nephew Rohit, who is contesting the upcoming elections.