Mumbai/New Delhi: Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray Sunday expressed his admiration for BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and said she was best suited to becoming the next prime minister but her party played down his remarks and said any such decision would be taken at an appropriate time.
Thackeray said in the third part of his marathon four-part interview published in the party mouthpiece "Saamna" Sunday that Sushma Swaraj was the most suited leader for the top post.
"Presently, she is the most suited to the top post. I think she will make a dashing prime minister," he said.
"There is a long queue for the post of prime minister. Only Sushma (Swaraj) is deserving, intelligent and could make an excellent choice for prime minister," Thackeray said, effectively throwing cold water on the hopes of other prominent aspirants from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar or Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Reacting to Thackeray's remarks, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said it was a matter of joy that the BJP had several leaders who were capable of being prime minister and Sushma Swaraj was one of them.
"It is matter of joy for us that there are leaders who are capable, acceptable for the post of prime minister and who are effective... Party will take a decision in consultation with NDA and announce it at an appropriate time," Naqvi told IANS.
He said while Sushma Swaraj, who is leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, was a leader capable of being prime minister and there were other leaders.
Another party leader Balbir Punj welcomed Thackeray's remarks and said the party had several candidates suited for the post of prime minister.
Taking a dig at the Congress, he said BJP was not dependent on a single family for its existence.
"What Balasaheb has said, we welcome it," he said.
Thackeray in his interview neatly side-stepped senior BJP leader L.K. Advani's recent musings that the country's next government would be formed by a non-United Progressive Alliance (UPA), non-NDA front.
"He (Advani) is nine months younger than me. Though I am senior to him and I have a right, I find it difficult to say anything against him. What can we expect from persons like him? Wonder why he said such a thing... Let it be," Thackeray said, trailing off.
Asked about other third front aspirants like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Sharad Pawar or Jayalalithaa, Thackeray dismissed each of them on grounds that they only wanted the 'chair'. He said that looking at the past records of each of these leaders, he did not think that any of them had made any significant contribution to the nation.
Referring to the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Maharashtra and whether it was "strong", Thackeray diplomatically said that in the changed circumstances, that would not be an appropriate word to describe the alliance.
"The current thinking is different. There are personal and political enmities between individuals and parties within the NDA. In the past, the NDA had the commanding leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There is no such leader now, and I am talking about the entire NDA, not BJP," he replied.