The Shiv Sena queered the BJP’s pitch, with its supremo Bal Thackeray openly voicing support for the United Progressive Alliance’s Presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, on Tuesday.

After a frantic weekend rife with rumours and speculation, the Sena chief articulated his support in typical fashion, with a thundering lead in the party mouthpiece Saamna. According to sources, Mr. Mukherjee had an extensive phone talk with the Sena leader on Saturday night. This, coupled with the party’s absence at a crucial meeting of the National Democratic Alliance in New Delhi on Sunday, led to a growing certainty that the Sena would back the Union Finance Minister’s candidature.

This fiasco over Presidential nominations is highly undignified, wrote Mr. Thackeray, adding that the names of several undeserving candidates were being bandied about.

Hailing Mr. Mukherjee as “a deserving candidate,” Mr. Thackeray exhorted the political spectrum to wholeheartedly back him in a move that would send out a strong message of unity.

The Sena chief warned against accusations of backstabbing and perfidy being levelled at his party for backing Mr. Mukherjee.

While political punters in the State capital are agog with the theme of a yawning schism between the BJP and its ally, the Sena top brass preferred to stonewall questions.

Speaking to The Hindu, a senior Sena spokesperson ascribed the party’s decision to dithering on part of the BJP.

“The Shiv Sena prefers decisiveness, while they [the BJP] have only been holding meetings and more meetings,” said a senior leader, requesting anonymity.

The Sena decision has expectedly thrown the BJP into a tizzy with local leaders dubbing Mr. Thackeray’s thumping support of Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature a “most unfortunate decision.”

“It only proves that the Shiv Sena is veering towards the Congress. While they have a right to their choice as an independent political party, it is undignified of them to kowtow to the choices of Congress leaders,” State BJP president Sudhir Mungantiwar told The Hindu.

In the past also, the Presidential elections drove a wedge between the Sena and the BJP.

In the run-up to the 2007 elections, the Sena bickered with the BJP over the choice of candidates. It was gunning for the candidacy of Pratibha Patil on grounds that she hailed from Maharashtra while shutting the door on Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the BJP’s preferred choice.

Backing Pranab does not mean backing Congress

On Tuesday evening, executive president Uddhav Thakeray said the Sena's backing to UPA presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee did not imply support to the Congress party.

“Yes, we support Pranab Mukherjee. But that does not mean we are backing the Congress. It's unfortunate that a country of one billion people cannot find a presidential candidate," Mr. Thackeray said in his address to party workers on the occasion of the Sena's 46th Foundation Day.

He said each party was engaged in a "disgusting" display of strength in the Presidential race and that "no one cared about the country."

Mr. Thackeray urged the Opposition parties to set their sights firmly on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“The Opposition must come together and form an effective alternative. There is a lot of discontent against the Congress in the country. The results of the bypolls in Andhra Pradesh and the Kaij bypoll in Maharashtra have proved that,” he said.