Without mincing words, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Monday termed the Bharatiya Janata Party his party's "principal enemy" and said it is part of the Maharashtra government "just for the sake of it".
His remarks came on the eve of the Devendra Fadnavis govenment's third anniversary.
Raut also praised Rahul Gandhi saying there has been a substantial change in him over the last three years.
"The BJP owns the government. We are (in the government) just for the sake of it. Instead of hitting out at the Congress and NCP, the BJP targets the Sena. They (the BJP) are thus our principal enemy," Raut told reporters in Nashik.
On Rahul Gandhi, the Rajya Sabha MP said, "A leader is one who is accepted by people. There is a substantial change in Rahul Gandhi since 2014. People like to listen to him now."
The Uddhav Thackeray-led party has begun preparations for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls of 2019 and it is ready to fight elections whether or not there is an alliance with the BJP, Raut said.
To a question on the Sena's stand on encroachment by hawkers on the Mumbai streets, Raut said Bal Thackeray, the late Sena chief, was the first to raise the issue.
"Balasaheb was the first person to speak on this issue. Today, unless the chief minister provides police protection to corporation employees, the civic body cannot remove encroachments," he said.
Asked about former Congress leader Narayan Rane -- who started his career with the Shiv Sena before a bitter parting of ways -- joining the state cabinet, Raut said he had been hearing rumours of cabinet expansion for long, and he would comment on it only when it happens.
Earlier in the day, Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had said the cabinet reshuffle will take place before the winter session of the state legislature, and Rane, who quit the Congress recently to form his own outfit, will be inducted into the cabinet.
Hitting at the Sena, Fadnavis said that the party must realise that it cannot play the role of a ruling party and opposition simultaneously.
"Some Sena leaders have developed the habit of opposing everything our government does... One can understand opposition to a few things as they are a different party," Fadnavis said.
"How is it alright if you oppose everything? How can it be that you are in government and opposition at the same time? People do not like this," the chief minister said during an interaction at his official residence in south Mumbai.
Due to such statements by some (Sena) leaders, neither they nor their party benefits, Fadnavis, who was sworn in as chief minister on October 31, 2014, said.
"While being part of the government, if you want to take credit, you should also learn to take discredit ... It cannot happen that you claim credit and give discredit to others," the chief minister said.
"You should be able to tolerate criticism for a (government) decision. You cannot say you did all the good and the BJP did all that is not good," he said.
Asked about reports of some Sena leaders threatening to withdraw from the state government, Fadnavis said, "What is there to react? I will react openly if Uddhavji (Sena president Uddhav Thackeray) says something."
"There (in the Sena) are many who think they are very big leaders. We do not react to such leaders. From our side, leaders of their level react to what they say," Fadnavis said.
He denied reports about Milind Narvekar, an aide of Uddhav Thackeray, giving an him an "ultimatum" against inducting former Sena leader Narayan Rane in the state cabinet.
On the coalition, he said: "This will continue. There is not this much of tension (between the BJP and the Sena). The tension is seen (from) outside but inside there is no tension," he said.
He said the Shiv Sena could have objected to Rane's induction had he "come to us from the Sena. He was in the Congress for a decade after leaving the Sena".
Rane had set up his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha, after resigning from the Congress last month. He was Maharashtra chief minister in 1999 when he was in the Shiv Sena. He had quit the Sena in 2005 and joined the Congress.
Asked if he had conveyed to the Sena that it should learn to accept the BJP as 'Big Brother' due to its good numbers in the Assembly, Fadnavis said "I do not believe (in the concept of) 'Big Brother'."
"We have always respected (Sena founder) Balasaheb Thackeray. (Sena chief) Uddhav Thackeray is senior to me in age and position. But the public decided (in the 2014 assembly polls) as to which party is senior," he said.
Fadnavis said any alliance between the BJP and the Sena (after the next assembly polls) can happen "only on the basis of this position".
Asked about a news report of NCP chief Sharad Pawar saying he had "never seen such a childish Maharashtra chief minister in the past", Fadnavis said: "He (Pawar) has clarified to me that he never said such a thing."