Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said it was too early to talk about the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress for the next election and said that "there are several party leaders who are equally or better qualified" than him.
"It's too early to talk about the potential prime ministerial candidate for the Congress as there are several leaders who are equally qualified or better qualified than me," Manmohan Singh told reporters while returning after a 10-day visit to the US and France.
His remarks came days after some Congress leaders tried to project Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the son of party president Sonia Gandhi, as the party's prime ministerial candidate.
Recently, Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily said that Rahul Gandhi "100 per cent fits the bill" for the prime minister's post.
Gandhi has the "capability, vision and determination to work for the country and give leadership as prime minister", Congress MP Sachin Pilot said in a recent interview.
Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has named LK Advani as its prime ministerial candidate, the Congress is yet to declare if its candidate will be for the country's top post. But Rahul Gandhi has said that he is all for Manmohan Singh.
Manmohan Singh also spoke about a wide spectrum of subjects including the global financial crisis and its impact on India, the row over land acquisition for the Tata Nano plant in Singur, Home Minister Shivraj Patil as well as attacks on Christians.
Manmohan Singh said his Congress-led government was focussed on pursuing economic reforms with a human face and tackling terrorism by improving counter-terror mechanisms.
"The first and foremost task of any government in our country is to deal with issues of development because poverty, ignorance and disease still affect millions and millions of our countrymen," he said.
Manmohan Singh argued that "meaningful solutions to the problems of mass poverty can be found only in the framework of a rapidly expanding economy".
Alluding to 9 per cent economic growth over the past few years, he said it was "an improvement over the performance of any government in the past".
The prime minister, however, underscored the need for blending growth with social justice and empowerment.
"I also believe that growth is not an end in itself but is only a means to enable our people to lead a life of dignity and self-respect.
"And therefore we have strengthened those aspects of our policies that have a direct bearing on the well being of our people, the poorest people," he said, referring to the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
The scheme is "a revolutionary step which implemented effectively will at the minimum soften very considerably the harsh edges of extreme poverty in our country".