Shiv Sena, the estranged ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hailed Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the “face of the Opposition” and said that he has proved that he is ready for leadership from the manner he took on the saffron party in the Lok Sabha on Friday.

Speaking to Marathi news channel Star Majha on Saturday, Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “Rahul Gandhi has lived up to the expectations of the people. He demonstrated on Friday that he can lead the Opposition effectively.”

Raut’s comment came a day after the ruling BJP comfortably defeated the no-confidence motion moved against it by the opposition parties. Though Shiv Sena has turned into a major critic of the BJP, it kept away from the motion.

When asked to comment on the headline-grabbing hug that the 48-year-old Congress chief gave the 67-year-old PM, Raut said that Gandhi did “what Modi always does”.

“The PM had gone to Pakistan and hugged Nawaz Sharif, what happened? When Rahul hugged Modi, everybody was surprised. He (Rahul) showed that he is a successful politician.. And the wink (to his Congress colleagues) indicated that he had succeeded,” Raut said.

On the Sena’s decision to stay away from the no-confidence motion, he said that “sometimes, silence is more important”.

“Whether we did or did not, remained present or not, the entire focus nationally was on our party. The Sena President took the decision at an appropriate time’ on this,” Raut held.

Raut said that the Shiv Sena has been the first to criticise the policy decisions of the ruling government. He said that even though Telugu Desam Party chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had supported demonetisation in 2016, Sena President Uddhav Thackeray had opposed it the very next day.

“Whether we are in government or not doesn’t matter… Balasaheb Thackeray taught us and we never run for power,” Raut said.

However, he declined to comment on whether BJP President Amit Shah or Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had reached out to the Sena ahead of the no-confidence motion, but mentioned that the NDA I and NDA II are very different.

“Earlier, George Fernandes was the convenor and the (then) Deputy PM LK Advani used to meet and speak with Balasaheb Thackeray. There were relations, it was not just business,” Raut pointed out.

(With inputs from agencies.)