Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the “top leader of the country and his party (the BJP)”, 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 talk of a patch-up between the long-time allies who split – over power-sharing disagreements – after winning the 2019 Assembly election.
The Sena moved to play down such buzz. “It was not for political reasons,” an editorial in party mouthpiece ‘Saamna‘ said, and Mr Thackeray said: “… doesn’t mean our relationship has broken”.
Mr Raut – who was vocal in his criticism of the BJP during that fallout – was responding to speculation the RSS – the BJP’s ideological mentor – may now want local leaders 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 was quoted by news agency PTI.
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 Prime Minister was a prominent face on the campaign trail in each of those three polls, but the BJP wound up with zero seats in Kerala, four in Tamil Nadu and only 77 (of a target of 200) in Bengal.
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 Uttar Pradesh – a bellwether state ahead of the 2024 national election – questions are being asked of the BJP’s so-far unquestioned campaign plans.
The acquisition of ex-Congress leader Jitin Prasada – an influential Brahmin face in the state – is an indication the party may be ready to reset and focus on local faces rather than out-of-state big-hitters.
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”.
“The Shiv Sena’s stand has always been a Prime Minister belongs to the country and not one party… Hence PM shouldn’t get involved in campaigning…,” he said.
Mr Raut, who is currently on a tour of northern Maharashtra districts to strengthen the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi’s grassroots reach, was speaking to reporters in Jalgaon.
With input from PTI