A meeting between former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Saturday has set off a huge buzz, though both sides have denied it was anything political.
The meeting at a luxury hotel in the western suburbs of Mumbai has raised eyebrows at a time both leaders have sparred bitterly in public over a range of issues, the latest being the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the demolition at actor Kangana Ranaut's office.
Sanjay Raut, confirming the meeting, said it was for an interview for the Shiv Sena mouthpiece "Saamana" -- which he is in charge of - and that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was aware of it.
"Devendra Fadnavis is not our enemy. We have worked with him. I met Fadnavis for his interview for Saamna. This was a pre-decided meeting. Even Uddhav Thackeray was aware of this," Mr Raut told reporters.
"Is it a crime to meet Fadnavis, who is a former chief minister and now the Opposition leader in the state Assembly? We have ideological differences but we are not enemies," he added.
Mr Raut said he had interviewed NCP leader Sharad Pawar and had also announced interviews with Devendra Fadnavis, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Maharashtra BJP chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye also posted on social media that there was no political angle to the meeting. "Raut wanted to interview Fadnavis for (the Sena mouthpiece) Saamana and this meeting was to discuss how to go about it," he tweeted.
"Fadnavis informed Raut that he would grant him the interview after returning from the Bihar poll campaign," Mr Upadhye said.
माजी मुख्यमंत्री @Dev_Fadnavis आणि शिवसेना नेते @rautsanjay61 यांची भेट झाली आहे. संजय राऊत यांनी सामनासाठी देवेंद्र फडणवीस यांची मुलाखत घेण्याची इच्छा प्रदर्शित केली होती. त्यावर या मुलाखतीसाठी एकदा भेटण्याचे ठरले होते. ती संपूर्ण मुलाखत अनएडिटेड जावी...1— Keshav Upadhye (@keshavupadhye) September 26, 2020
अशी देवेंद्र फडणवीस यांची— Keshav Upadhye (@keshavupadhye) September 26, 2020
इच्छा असल्याने एकदा भेटून प्रारूप ठरविण्यासाठी ही भेट झाली. बिहार निवडणुकीतून परतल्यानंतर ही मुलाखत देण्याचे देवेंद्र फडणवीस यांनी त्यांना सांगितले आहे. या भेटीला कुठलाही राजकीय संदर्भ नाही.
When long-time allies BJP and Shiv Sena broke up over power-sharing after the Maharashtra election last year, Mr Raut led the attack against the BJP, especially Devendra Fadnavis. Their two-hour meeting on Saturday is the first since their acrimonious split.
The two parties contested the state election as allies but fell out over how to form government together, with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena insisting on a better share in ministries. The Sena finally broke off ties with the BJP and formed a government with rivals NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) of Sharad Pawar and the Congress.
The BJP said Mr Raut had asked to meet Mr Fadnavis. "Fadnavis wanted the interview to be published unedited and both met to discuss the framework," said BJP leader Pravin Darekar.
Former state BJP minister Sudhir Mungantiwar dismissed speculation about the Sena and the BJP exploring a patch-up. "Any such decision of government formation has not been discussed in the state core committee, hence the possibility of joining hands with Shiv Sena to form a government in Maharashtra is out of question," said Mr Mungantiwar, according to PTI.
He said BJP workers had been upset when Mr Fadnavis took oath with NCP leader Ajit Pawar in an abortive attempt to form government before resigning four days later after Mr Pawar failed to win over enough MLAs.