Manmohan Singh said Saturday he would like to see Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi succeed him as prime minister, and that he would be happy to work under the much younger leader.
“I have always maintained that Rahul Gandhiji would be an ideal choice for prime minister after the 2014 elections,” Singh told reporters on the way back from the G20 summit at St Petersburg, Russia. “I would be happy to work for the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.”
Singh’s comments are set to revive the debate within the Congress over projecting Gandhi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014 to take on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who is likely to be named the BJP’s nominee as early as next week.
In a wide-ranging interaction, the PM, who turns 81 on Septem-ber 26, also said he was reluctant to meet Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month as Islamabad had not done enough to bring to justice the 26/11 perpetrators.
He said he respected Sharif and would be happy to meet him under normal conditions, but “if there is no significant progress in bringing the culprits of the Mumbai massacre to book — that I have to factor in before arriving at a final decision”.
His strong stand reflects the dominant view in the Congress that India should have a “calibrated” approach towards Pakistan in an election year.
Asked if the Congress was open to an alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress for the general elections, he said, “In politics, there are no permanent enemies and permanent friends… “I don’t rule out alliances.” He said Banerjee’s past in the Congress (she left the party in 1997 to form the Trinamool Congress) and her commitment to secularism made her a strong potential ally.
Sporting a light-blue bandhgala, Singh — looking tired after hectic meetings but sounding sharp — snubbed the charge that he had not answered all of the Opposition’s questions relating to corruption scandals. “I try to answer all questions that have been raised. I have been as forthright as I can,” he said.
Calling the G20 summit “an essay in persuasion,” Singh said it had been successful because developed economies had endorsed New Delhi’s concern that their monetary policies were causing problems for emerging economies such as India.
On the growth slump and the sliding rupee, he said India must look beyond short-term relief and work on fundamentals to aid the economy in the long term. He said he expected his forthcoming visits to the US, Russia and China to boost trade relations and create a climate of confidence and cooperation.