Uddhav's soft corner for Rahul

Mumbai, May 9: The Shiv Sena on Wednesday told Prime Minister Narendra Modi "not to ridicule" Congress President Rahul Gandhi who announced his name for the country's top post if his party is voted to power in 2019.In a sharp reaction to Modi's criticism of Gandhi and terming his statement "sheer arrogance", the Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member and spokesperson Sanjay Raut said that in a democracy the Congress chief had every right to express his desire to become the PM."It is by that same right that Modi also became the PM, so he should not ridicule anyone else for this. Actually, in 2014, it was expected that (BJP leader) L.K. Advani would play the role of the PM," Raut said.He said the better option for Modi would be "to defeat Gandhi first if you want to stop him from becoming the PM" and there was no point getting irritated about his stand."The Congress still remains the biggest party in the country today. They were defeated by an extraordinary atmosphere prevalent in 2014. It is for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA, headed by Congress) partners to decide what will be Gandhi's role," Raut pointed out.As far as the Sena was concerned, he said "we find even Sharad Pawar a worthy candidate and besides Modi, others like Arun Jaitley and Advani also have the potential" in the BJP.On the BJP's criticism of the Sena's decision to field former BJP MP, the late Chintaman Vanga's son Shriniwas Vanga as the candidate for the Palghar Lok Sabha bypolls, Raut said "the BJP is in a state of turmoil"."First they should sit and discuss with us. Nobody can pressurise us like this. It is Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray's decision to contest the elections on our own strength," Raut said.Countering Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' contention that Palghar seat belonged to the BJP, Raut asked: "If that is so, then why did you have to hire a candidate from the Congress to contest it, especially when he had contested against the late Vanga?"He called upon Fadnavis - who vowed that the BJP would win Palghar "come what may" - to withdraw the (BJP) candidate Rajendra Gavit from the Palghar by-elections, if he really hoped for the Shiv Sena's cooperation.Terming the BJP's decision to field a candidate in Palghar as "unfortunate", Raut issued a veiled threat saying the Shiv Sena was now considering contesting even the Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha by-election as the party wanted to display its strength and self-respect.The Bhandara-Gondiya seat fell vacant in December 2017 after BJP MP Nana F. Patole quit the party and joined the Congress.The relations between the BJP and Shiv Sena touched a new low after the latter 'hijacked' the Palghar seat, leaving the BJP fuming and labeling its ally's decision as 'backstabbing'.