"I am not a weak Prime Minister"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on Thursday that he would “hand over the baton” to his successor after general elections scheduled for later this year. The announcement — made at only the third press conference the Prime Minister held in India during his two terms — clears the way for the Congress to name party vice-president Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.

“In a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new Prime Minister. I hope it will be a United Progressive Alliance-chosen Prime Minister and our party will work to that end in the campaign for the General Elections”.

“Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials” he said, “and I hope that decision will be taken by our party at an appropriate time”. In the course of questions, the Prime Minister at one point referred to Mr. Gandhi as a “presidential candidate”. However, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that this was a “slip of the tongue”.

Following the press conference, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, who shared the platform with Dr. Singh, told journalists: “From the point of view of the Congress, we do hope that Rahul Gandhi who is the natural leader of the Congress party, would be the rightful person, once bestowed with blessings of people, to be the carrier of that baton”. Mr. Tewari did not, however, say when a decision might be taken. Separately, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: “After Sonia Gandhi, the next most important leader in the Congress is Rahul Gandhi, and whenever the question of who should be our prime ministerial candidate comes up, only one name crops up — Rahul Gandhi.” Dr. Singh also attacked the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, saying “I sincerely believe it would be disastrous for India to have Mr. Modi as Prime Minister”. “I do not believe I have been a weak Prime Minister”, he said, to a question on Mr. Modi’s accusations on his leadership. “By strong Prime Minister you mean that you preside over the mass massacre of innocent civilians on the streets of Ahmedabad — if that is the measure of strength — I do not believe our country needs that kind of strength”, Dr. Singh said. Dr. Singh responded to questions on corruption scandals saying “the people of India do not seem to have paid heed to all these charges which are levied against me or my government”.

(With inputs from Smita Gupta)