Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Monday heaped praises on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi while he launched a no-holds-barred attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), calling it his party's "principal enemy".
The Rajya Sabha MP said the Shiv Sena is part of the Maharashtra government "just for the sake of it".
"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, Raut said there has been a substantial change in the Congress leader over the last three years.
"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," Raut said.
His statement comes just days after he said that the Gandhi scion was capable of leading the country and that it was wrong to call him "Pappu".
Shiv Sena, the oldest constituent of the NDA, is in power both at the Centre and Maharashtra. Sena shares an unconventional relationship with the BJP and has been attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policies including demonetisation.
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.
"Bala-saheb 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.
(With PTI inputs)