Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the “top leader of the country and his party”, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said Thursday, two days after Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray met the Prime Minister in Delhi to seek his help over the Maratha quota issue.
The meeting renewed rumours of a patch-up between the long-time allies whose relationship broke down in 2019 over power-sharing squabbles in the wake of their winning the Assembly election.
The Sena moved quickly to play down the rumours, which have never really been far from the surface. “It was not for political reasons,” party mouthpiece ‘Saamna‘ said. Mr Thackeray said: “We may not be politically together… doesn’t mean our relationship has broken.”
The praise from Mr Raut – who was among those most vocal in his criticism of the BJP during that fallout – was in response to speculation about the Prime Minister’s hold on voters and talk that the RSS – the BJP’s ideological mentor – may now want local leaders as party faces for state polls.
“I don’t want to comment on this… I don’t go by the media reports. There is no official statement about this… The BJP owes its success to Narendra Modi in the last seven years and currently he is the top leader of the country and his party,” Mr Raut said.
The BJP – which won the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls by piggybacking on the PM’s image – has suffered setbacks in states, the most recent of which were in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The Bengal loss, in particular, has opened a can of worms, with local leaders and those lured from the Trinamool and rival parties voicing discontent over being sidelined by out-of-state faces.
And with the elections due in UP – a bellwether state ahead of the 2024 election – questions are being asked of so-far unquestioned campaign plans.
The acquisition of ex-Congress leader Jitin Prasada – an influential Brahmin face in UP – is an indication the party may be ready to reset and focus on local rather than out-of-state faces.
Mr Raut also snuck in a pointed reference to the Prime Minister on the campaign trail, suggesting that PM Modi “shouldn’t get involved in campaigning” as he “belongs to the entire country”.