At an opposition meeting that Uddhav Thackeray skipped on Monday over Rahul Gandhi's Savarkar comments, Sharad Pawar advised the Gandhis that the Congress must avoid speaking on what is an emotional subject for Shiv Sena leaders.
Mr Pawar, who crafted the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition in 2019 by bringing together the ideologically disparate Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena, intervened after Mr Thackeray warned against "fissures" in the Maharashtra coalition caused by Mr Gandhi's comments.
The veteran leader reportedly spoke to both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at the meeting in which Mr Thackeray's Sena faction was a notable absentee. Mr Pawar emphasised that targeting VD Savarkar, a revered figure in Maharashtra, would not help the opposition alliance in the state. Mr Pawar also told Mr Gandhi that Savarkar was never a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), and underscored that the opposition's real fight was with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
"We should focus on issues of democracy. Controversies divert focus from the issue. Today it is about Rahul Gandhi's suspension, earlier Sanjay Raut was jailed. So we should avoid talking on emotional and emotive issues and stick to real issues," Mr Pawar reportedly said.
The Congress agreed to tone down its criticism of Savarkar.
Eighteen opposition parties attended the meeting, which was meant to be a show of solidarity with the Congress over the disqualification of Mr Gandhi from parliament after a Gujarat court sentenced him to two-year jail.
Sanjay Raut, a leader of Mr Thackeray's Sena, said today: "If they have decided to avoid such things it is good. I spoke to Rahul ji. I feel it is going well."
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh indicated that the parties have patched up. "19 parties are together, and that includes Shiv Sena. Last night there were 18 parties, today I said 19. Understand. It will turn into 19 from 18 only if Shiv Sena is part of the group," he said.
Mr Gandhi's frequent criticism of Hindu ideologue Vinayak "Veer" Savarkar has been a cause of strain between the Congress and the Shiv Sena.
On Saturday, when Mr Gandhi was asked about his refusal to apologise for his comments on democracy in the UK or for the "Modi surname" remark that led to his jail sentence, he said: "My name is not Savarkar. My name is Gandhi and Gandhi doesn't apologise."
His comments on Savarkar during the Bharat Jodo Yatra last year had also infuriated Mr Thackeray's party. Later, the allies agreed to step back from a clash, with Mr Thackeray's top aide Mr Raut joining Mr Gandhi's march.
After Mr Gandhi's latest comment, Mr Thackeray said: "I want to tell Rahul Gandhi that we have come together, that's right, we have come together to save democracy and constitution in this country. But do not make any statements that will create fissures. They (BJP) are trying to provoke you, if we miss this timing, then our country will surely go towards autocracy."