Pune: Replying to pointed questions thrown by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said on Wednesday that only the Congress had the ability to challenge the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presently.
He also took an indirect barb at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that irrespective of differences in political ideologies, "elders must be accorded respect always" and said that the recent attack on India's first PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru "was not proper."
Thackeray was "interviewing" him at a public function organised by Jagtik Marathi Academy. Pawar responded to wide-ranging questions for nearly 90 minutes.
Talking about Congress, he said, "In the past, the Congress had a strong organisational presence in the districts, states and all over India. That is not so now... the party is changing. However, even the (Congress President) Rahul Gandhi is also changing. He is willing to learn."
"Only the Congress can give a challenge to the BJP. With Rahul maturing and learning, I think 'achhe din' will dawn for the Congress," he added.
On the other hand, the NCP chief pointed out how former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had set principles in political life - "which is lacking now," and compared how when Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister, he "used to make personal attacks on (then) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh".
"That was the reason why Congress CM were bitter about Modi, but I used to intervene to sort out issues," Pawar said. Replying to a question, Pawar said responsible leaders should think of the country as a whole and "not just Gujarat or Ahmedabad", IANS reported.
"Why does Modi take all foreign leaders only to Gujarat? Why can't he show them all other states, including Maharashtra?" he asked.
To a question by Thackeray, if PM Modi - who once described himself as a student of Pawar - listens to the NCP chief, Pawar replied, "I have amicable relations with Modi. I advised him many times, but he never heeded me anytime."
"Modi has the ability to work hard but running a state and governing a country are very different. For managing the country, you need a team which is lacking for Modi," he added.
At the same time, he expressed concern how, in recent years, casteism is raising its head, "but it will not survive for long". Pawar advised Thackeray to propagate the principle of his uncle (the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray), who never believed in caste, creed or community, but was a staunch nationalist.
(With IANS inputs)