Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut met with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi this evening and later said there cannot be any opposition front without the Congress - a big message aimed at Mamata Banerjee after her "What UPA" taunt.
"There has to be only one opposition front against the BJP. An opposition front is not possible without the Congress. What is the point of two-three fronts? It will benefit the BJP," Mr Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Shiv Sena, told reporters.
Asked whether opposition parties should sit together to discuss strategy versus the BJP for the 2024 national election, Mr Raut said: "I have asked Rahul Gandhi to take the lead on that."
He added: "Who leads the front is something all parties have to sit and decide together."
On whether the Shiv Sena is attempting to broker peace between the Congress and Mamata Banerjee, he remarked: "Sharad Pawar Saab hai (we have NCP leader Sharad Pawar for that)."
The meeting took place amid signs that the Congress and the Shiv Sena, part of a coalition in Maharashtra, might be inching towards a wider understanding.
Congress sources suggest the Sena might back the party in the state elections early next year. Though the Sena has negligible presence in some of these states, like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the political symbolism of extending support to the Congress speaks to the surprising, newfound proximity of the two ideologically opposed parties who had struggled to come together in the first place.
Two days ago, the Shiv Sena had strongly defended the Congress from Bengal Chief Minister's attacks.
After meeting with Shiv Sena leaders and the NCP's Sharad Pawar in Mumbai, Mamata Banerjee had told reporters: "What UPA? There is no UPA now? What is the UPA? We will clear all issues. We want a strong alternative."
The comments, suggesting that the Congress-led coalition is long past its sell-by date, provoked a strong rebuttal from the Sena in its mouthpiece, Saamna, on Sunday.
Pushing the Congress out of national politics and creating an opposition grouping parallel to the UPA would only strengthen the BJP and "fascist" forces, the Sena editorial said.
"It is true that Mamata Banerjee finished the Congress, Left and BJP in West Bengal. But keeping Congress out of national politics will amount to strengthening the current fascist forces. It is understandable that (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and his BJP feel that Congress should be wiped out. This is part of their agenda. But it is more dangerous when those fighting against Modi and his ideology think that the Congress should be wiped out," said the Saamna piece.