MUMBAI: The Thackeray brothers, while still not together, have launched a frontal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah that is becoming sharper with time. The Opposition remains more cautious in its criticism of the BJP top brass, but clearly no limits apply to Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray who mince no words in leading the charge against what many consider to be their ‘natural’ ally.

Political equations are change in Maharashtra ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the Thackeray brothers gearing the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) into an ‘oppose BJP’ mode, in a bid to check it from expanding and eating into their turf which is basically centred around Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. The two are also raising the BJP’s alleged commitment to a separate Vidarbha state amongst their constituents to halt its seemingly forward march.

The Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress party is focusing on Marathwada, and north and parts of western Maharashtra. The Congress is trying to consolidate its traditional Maratha support base, along with the minorities and Dalits even as it opens lines with all the parties for possible alliances in the parliamentary elections.

The BJP, following its growth in Maharashtra from the panchayat to the Lok Sabha, is working hard to replace ally Shiv Sena in Mumbai and adjoining areas. Aware of having become a ‘junior partner’ of the BJP, the Shiv Sena has started placing itself in the opposition space as has MNS that is decisive about weakening the BJP in Mumbai and urban areas and identify itself with ‘Marathi asmita’.

Raj Thackeray was perhaps the first leader to oppose PM Modi’s precision Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet train project. He said that the interests of Maharashtra were being sacrified at the altar of Gujarat. Calling the Prime Minister a liar. Thackeray said he would not allow work on the bullet train to continue until and unless the suburban rail network was upgraded. This was after the stampede on an overbridge at the Elphinstone Raod station in Mumbai in which at least 22 persons were killed.

“I shall not allow even a brick for the bullet train project to be laid. First resolve all the basic problems of Mumbai commuters. If Modi wants, let him construct it in Gujarat,” Raj Thackeray said warning that MNS will “oppose in its own style” any effort by the government to push the bullet train project through.

“The government has not been able to maintain the existing set-up of the railways, and is launching new projects. I have not seen a liar such as our prime minister in my entire life. He is boasting about the bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai,” the MNS chief said.

Uddhav Thackeray followed almost immediately with, “Why are Bullet trains forced upon us, none of us are going to Ahmedabad for a round trip in a single day. So, why should we take Prime Minister Modi's burden?” He asked the PM to explain why he had not run pan India trains instead of just focusing on his home state.

The Shiv Sena supported the BJP in the Presidential election but has been a sharp and vocal critic on all other issues such as price rise, farmers suicides, unemployment, sharing of power with neighbouring states.

Significantly, Uddhav Thackeray also joined issue with the BJP on its beef policy. "In Maharashtra, you ban Beef but in Goa and Kerala your Chief Ministers, Manohar Parrikar and Alphons Kannanthanam promise their people that Beef will be provided, "I don't say that go and kill cows. But, I will quote that judge who said that her punishment to kill a cow is more than killing a person," the Shiv Sena chief said.

He urged the BJP to refrain from "teaching us patriotism". He warned, "Don't teach us patriotism. The day when we need to be taught patriotism hasn't come yet,". He referred specifically to an atmosphere being created in the wake of demonetisation that, “those who favour demonetisation are patriots and those who oppose it are traitors.”

The Sena leader has also been questioning the BJP over its policy of sharing power with the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir.. "In Kashmir, what ideological bond do you (BJP) share with the PDP? Why hasn't special status to Jammu & Kashmir been revoked?" he asked. "We allied with the BJP for Hindutva when the word 'Hindutva' was a taboo. If they (BJP leaders) think we are of no use to them, we'll see, but let us know what is your definition of Hindutva," he asked.

The Shiv Sena mouthpiece has been carrying on a tirade against the BJP, as have been the Thackeray blogs keeping PM Modi and Shah in their sights.