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 discuss Cyclone Tauktae relief ops and the Maratha quota issue.
The ringing endorsement from Mr Raut – whose party allied with then-rivals Congress and the NCP to come to power in the state after a bitter split from long-time ally BJP – was in response to speculation the RSS – the BJP’s ideological mentor – may project local leaders for future 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 state polls, 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 states, but the BJP wound up with zero seats in Kerala, four in Tamil Nadu and only 77 in Bengal.
The Bengal loss, in particular, has opened a can of worms, with local leaders and those lured from the ruling Trinamool 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 campaign plans; questions that are particularly worrying given (internal) criticism of its government and its handling of the Covid pandemic.
The acquisition of former Congress leader Jitin Prasada – an influential Brahmin face in the state – is an indication that the party may be ready to reset optics and power equations, and focus more on local faces and leaders rather than out-of-state big-hitters.
Mr Raut also made 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 the PM shouldn’t get involved in campaigning as it puts pressure on official machinery,” 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