MUMBAI : A day after asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to refrain from "ridiculing" Rahul Gandhi for declaring his ambition to become Prime Minister, the Shiv Sena on Friday showered praises on the Congress chief, saying "he poses a challenge to the BJP" in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
"This is not the Rahul Gandhi of 2014. He is a changed person now. He has weathered abuse and criticism to emerge intellectually strong.
"He can throw up a serious challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019," the Sena cautioned in an editorial in the party mouthpieces "Saamana" and "Dopahar Ka Saamana".
Asserting that "Gandhi has acquired political strength and clout", the ruling BJP ally pointed out that this was effectively demonstrated in the December 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls.
"The BJP leaders mock him in vulgar language, but Rahul Gandhi has always maintained Modi's dignity as Prime Minister and never stooped low to criticise him ever.
"This proves that Rahul Gandhi possesses political intellect and culture, which even his opponents would concede," the Sena added.
However, the Sena wondered why the BJP was running "so scared and indulging in chest-beating" over Gandhi's desire to become the Prime Minister should his party won.
"Today, the BJP wants to know how -- with a queue of Prime Minister aspirants among the opposition parties -- could Gandhi declare himself as a contender for the top post?
"This question should be replied to by the BJP's senior leaders like L.K. Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi and others," the Sena said in a veiled reference to the side-lining of the party's senior leaders under the current dispensation.
It went on to add that ditto was the scenario with the post of President, since many had hoped that Advani at least would be catapulted to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in June 2017.
But finally, Modi and BJP President Amit Shah had their way and they went ahead with their choice without consulting any of the allies and friendly parties, it said, adding how it had proposed the name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for President.
"So, why is the BJP now demanding that Congress should consult its (UPA) allies before declaring the candidate for the Prime Minister's post? Let the people of the country decide whether Gandhi is good for them or not," the Sena said.
The Sena advised the BJP that instead of ridiculing Gandhi, "the BJP should have welcomed his statement and countered it by throwing a challenge to the Congress that it would defeat him in the 2019 battle".
The Sena reiterated the shabby treatment meted out by the BJP to its allies, and although it came to power with their support, the allies were rewarded "with back-stabbing, damage and destruction".
"The people will be the final judge whether Gandhi will become the Prime Minister or be dumped. Even Modi was very nice before the (2014) elections. But later on, peoples' pain and problems continue... The masses are reeling under it like a donkey carrying a heavy load... The only difference is, after each election, the donkey's master changes," the Sena concluded.