Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray still shares a very strong bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that is separate from politics, top Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said today, weeks after an interaction between the two leaders caused wild speculation.
Uddhav Thackeray met with PM Modi on June 8 over a range of issues linked to Maharashtra but it was their one-on-one meeting that drew maximum attention and suggested a thaw between the former allies.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut downplayed the Modi-Thackeray chat and said the Chief Minister's priority was to push for central intervention in Maratha quota after the Supreme Court struck it down.
"They spoke for about 40 minutes alone. This shouldn't lead to speculation that BJP will join hands with the Sena for a government. Our paths are different. BJP is in opposition and we are in power. But we still have strong personal bonds. The ties between the Thackeray family and Narendra Modi are years old. Politics can be separate but personal ties are strong," Sanjay Raut said.
"Look at Sharad Pawar. We always had ties with the Pawar family despite our political differences. This is Maharashtra's tradition - we are people who keep relationships intact," he added.
In the days after the PM-Uddhav Thackeray meeting, a confluence of several events led to strong buzz that Maharashtra's ruling Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress was in trouble and the Sena was gravitating towards the BJP, the long-time ally it dumped over a power-sharing dispute after the 2019 Maharashtra election.
One of the factors contributing to the turmoil was the pronouncements by Congress's Maharashtra Chief Nana Patole of going solo in the next assembly election, which rattled both the Sena and the NCP.
"It is our commitment to each other to run the government for five years. It is not our commitment to contest election together. Elections are three years away. Then we will see who will fight alone," Mr Raut said.
But despite his annoyance with the Congress, the Shiv Sena MP asserted that no opposition front could succeed without the party.
"Without the Congress no opposition front will succeed. Today it may be weakened, but it is still the main opposition party of the country. We have to take them along. There is no joy in a 3rd front or a 4th front or a 5th front. We have to strengthen the existing front," said the Rajya Sabha member.
"It is only when there is talk about who will lead the front that the trouble arises. A new front is no alternative. We have to strengthen the UPA."
Mr Raut said leaders like (Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee and NCP chief Sharad Pawar must speak to the Congress leadership.
"Such a front can't come to power immediately. But at least there will be a strong, united opposition front and the government will have to acknowledge that."