Mumbai: Just a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah expressed his hope that the Shiv Sena will stay with the BJP for the next elections, two prominent Sena leaders on Saturday rebuffed the overture.

Shiv Sena member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Raut told reporters on Saturday that “the time to formalize an alliance for the elections had long passed". Raut reiterated the Sena’s decision to fight the next elections on its own, as announced by party chief Uddhav Thakeray on 23 January.

Another senior Shiv Sena leader, Maharashtra industry minister Subhash Desai, addressing Sena cadres in Navi Mumbai on Saturday, said the BJP’s “tone and language" had changed after setbacks in recent bypolls. “Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis are talking about the BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government now because they see little possibility of BJP getting majority on its own in 2019. But six months back, the BJP’s tone and language were exactly opposite and they had no regard for other NDA constituents," Desai said. He also reminded the cadres that Thackeray had twice moved a resolution in the Shiv Sena to state Sena’s commitment to fighting alone in the next elections. “We have no option but fight alone now and that is our decision," Desai said.

Addressing the BJP foundation day convention in Mumbai on 6 April, Shah said the NDA under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP would win the general elections and Maharashtra assembly elections in 2019. Later at a press conference, Shah, when asked specifically about the Shiv Sena, said the BJP sincerely wished that the Sena would stay with it. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis went a step ahead and paid lofty tributes to Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray in his speech.

“While Fadnavis mentioned Balasaheb as an icon for the BJP cadres also and his contribution to the nation and Maharashtra, it was a very thoughtful and strategic ploy. It was a clear message to the current Sena leadership that a split in the Hindutva vote would only help the Congress and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party). After such a gesture and Amit bhai’s clear stand that the NDA would win the next elections, if the Shiv Sena leadership sticks to its decision to fight alone, it will become very difficult for them to justify this split in the Hindu vote," said a senior BJP functionary requesting anonymity.

However, many in the Shiv Sena think the BJP has extended this hand of friendship out of political necessity. “...Our cadres are directed by Uddhav saheb, not Amit Shah or Devendra Fadnavis, and they are firmly behind our decision to fight alone," said another senior Sena MP requesting anonymity, adding, “The BJP needs to retain its allies after Telugu Desam Party’s exit from the NDA and a perceptible change in the public mood."

The BJP functionary cited above, however, said leaders like Raut and Desai were not “the decision makers" in Shiv Sena.