When he parted ways with Shiv Sena 17 years ago, Chhagan Bhujbal, firebrand Maharashtra PWD minister, was embraced by Congress, relishing the prospects of marginalising the Sena in the state using him to attack his mentor Bal Thackeray.
Then came yet another turn in his political roller-coaster as Bhujbal who belongs to OBC decided to join Sharad Pawar's when the latter floated the Nationalist Congress Party breaking away from Congress on the now dead issue of Sonia Gandhi foreign origin.
But last weekend when Bhujbal appeared in a Mumbai court to withdraw a 1997 defamation case against the Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray with Uddhav Thackeray keeping him company in front of cameras it ruffled many a feather despite both Bhujbal and NCP playing down the development seen by many as pregnant with possibilities of realignments in the state.
Notwithstanding the ostensible reason given by Bhujbal that he was withdrawing the case -- relating to a report in Sena mouthpiece Saamana in view of the age factor and health condition of the senior Thackeray -- the timing and the manner of the goodwill gesture is being seen in political circles as demonstrative of Bhujbal's not too subtle message to the NCP leadership that he cannot be taken for granted if sidelined.
This move on part of Bhujbal, apparently sidelined by NCP leadership at a time when the dominant Maratha elements within the party are pressing for the community's inclusion in OBC list -- comes also when disgruntled Revenue Minister and another former Sainik Narayan Rane (Congress) is openly hobnobbing with other parties, including NCP.
Pawar is scheduled to inaugurate Rane's proposed Marathi daily Prahar on the eve of Dusherra, yet another oddity perceived by political observers when next assembly elections are round the corner.
A steadily growing prominence of R R Patil, NCP's deputy chief minister and Ajit Pawar, nephew of the NCP president in the party's state affairs is said to be a factor behind Bhujbal's discomfort.
The NCP leadership was later seen adopting a lukewarm posture towards Bhujbal after allegations of his involvement in the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam in which Abdul Karim Telgi emerged as the kingpin with charges of political connections.
Ironically, hours after Bhujbal hogged television limelight in the Bandra court premises with Uddhav Thackeray just standing besides him without speaking a word his broad
grin was open to many interpretations the NCP leaders including Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel made official announcement on setting up a committee to celebrate Bhujbal's 61st birthday next week on a grand scale.
Rubbishing political speculations on Bhujbal's burying his long-standing personal enmity with the Sena chief and the possibility of his returning to the saffron fold, Patel said he continues to be one of the most powerful leaders of the NCP.
However, the interest in the development remained undiluted as Uddhav Thackeray too said that he would be attending the birthday celebrations.
Reacting to Bhujbal's goodwill gesture towards the senior Thackeray, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is harbouring an ambitious Rane in his Cabinet, said over the weekend that political equations do not change so easily.