MUMBAI: Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut today said Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is capable of leading the country and stressed that the Narendra Modi wave has faded, a statement that is not likely to go down well with the BJP.
The anger among people in Gujarat against the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an indication that the BJP would face a stiff challenge in polls, scheduled to be held in December, he said.
Raut was addressing a discussion on a TV channel.
"Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is capable of leading the country. It is wrong to call him 'Pappu'," he said referring to the nickname used to mock the Congress vice-president by a section on social media.
"The way he is interacting with the people in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country has made one thing clear, that he is just ready to lead the nation," Raut said.
State Education Minister and senior BJP leader Vinod Tawde was also present at the event.
"The biggest political power in this country is people...the voters. 'Woh kisi ko bhi Pappu bana sakte hai' (People can make anyone pappu)," the Sena leader said in an apparent dig at the BJP which had secured a massive mandate in 2014 polls.
In candid replies to questions pertaining to relations between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, Raut made it clear that his party wouldn't budge from speaking out on issues affecting the interests of the people of Maharashtra.
To question whether the Shiv Sena will opt out of the state government and in that case whether the NCP would save the BJP government, Raut said that the BJP and NCP cannot openly come out in the open as allies in Maharashtra.
"Shiv Sena has a veto power in the government. However, there is no compulsion for the BJP to take along the Shiv Sena while running the government," he said.
While criticizing demonetization and GST, Raut said the impact of GST would be felt in the Gujarat Assembly elections. "There is no Modi wave in the country and that will add to the impact in Gujarat," he said.
Sena, the oldest constituent of the NDA, shares a 'blow hot-blow cold' relationship with its senior ally, the BJP, in the Centre and Maharashtra.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led party has been attacking Prime Minister Modi regularly and has often taken potshots at the BJP through editorials in the party mouthpiece "Saamana".
Raut's comments came a day after the schedule for Gujarat polls was announced.
Though Sena lacks any base in Gujarat, the home state of Modi, the party had extended its support to Patidar leader Hardik Patel who had met Uddhav Thackeray at the latter's residence in Mumbai earlier this year.
In 2015, Sena had said that even 100 Rahul Gandhis cannot match Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "mega wave" and had mocked the Congress vice president for his 'suit-boot ki sarkar' jibe.