Mumbai/New Delhi: Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has said that Sushma Swaraj is the only leader in the BJP who is "deserving" and will make a "great choice" for the Prime Minister`s post, evoking a cautious response from the BJP which said it has a number of "capable" leaders to fill the top slot.
Taking a swipe at the Sena chief, Congress said NDA has the habit of "counting chickens before they hatch".
"At present there is only one person who is intelligent, brilliant - Sushma Swaraj," Thackeray said in part three of his marathon interview, published by Sena mouthpiece `Saamana` today.
He was responding to the question who in BJP could become the next Prime Minister.
"I have said this many times... She would be a great choice for PM`s post. She is a deserving, intelligent woman. She would deliver a great performance," the Shiv Sena patriarch added.
In a guarded response, BJP leader Balbir Punj said in Delhi that his party has a "number of capable leaders" who can fill the slot as Prime Minister.
"We have a lot of capable leaders who can become the Prime Minister. For our existence, we are not dependent on any single family and, therefore, different people see different leaders in our party who can lead the country in these difficult times. And we welcome what Balasaheb has said," he said.
Speaking in a similar vein, BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, "BJP has many leaders who are competent to become the Prime Minister and are acceptable in the country... a decision on this will be taken by the BJP and other NDA partners at the time of elections".
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, "The larger NDA suffers from a unique malady of anointing prime ministers without awaiting for people`s verdict...The NDA/BJP should not count their chickens before they hatch."
Tewari said, "While in 2007 there was one prime minister- in-waiting (in NDA), by 2012 the numbers are multiplying at a rate that defies the logic of calculation," he said.
AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh said since
Swaraj`s name has been proposed by Shiv Sena as NDA`s prime ministerial candidate, she should now clear what is her party`s stand on attack on migrants from Bihar and UP in Maharashtra by Sena and MNS workers.
Thackeray also expressed dismay over senior BJP leader L K Advani`s recent prediction that the next government may be formed by a non-NDA, non-UPA front.
"I find it difficult to say anything beyond (what he said). What should one expect from these people ? Why did he say so?" Thackeray said.
The Sena chief`s comments come close on the heels of his recent meeting with Swaraj on the Coalgate. This is also the first time that the NDA ally has named a BJP leader as a possible Prime Ministerial candidate.
While Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi`s name has been doing the rounds as the potential Prime Ministerial nominee for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, NDA ally JD(U) has made it clear that he would not be acceptable.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar`s name has also cropped up but he has made it clear that he nurses no such ambition and would continue to serve the people of Bihar. Kumar has said that the NDA`s Prime Ministerial candidate must have clean and secular credentials.
To a question whether the alliance between BJP and Shiv Sena was "strong", Thackeray said: "Now (I) can`t use the word strong. Thinking has changed, there are personal animosities, animosities between the parties. NDA of the past had a leader like Vajpayee, now there is no such leadership. But I am talking about NDA, not BJP."