Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged on Friday that the challenge of Narendra Modi must be taken seriously but stressed that the Congress party's confidence would remain intact whatever be the result of the current round of assembly elections.
“I want to put it very seriously...There is no room for complacency,” the PM said, inaugurating the eleventh Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
“Congress party is going to the election with a sense of self-confidence and that should not be mistaken whatever may be the outcome of the provincial assembly elections. As an organised political party, we cannot underestimate the power of opposition to unsettle the ship,” Singh said, responding to a question on whether the BJP prime ministerial candidate was a challenge.
Exit polls predict a poor showing by Congress in key state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, while the BJP is seen galvanised by the energetic campaigning of Modi.
Congress has struggled to figure out the charismatic but controversial saffron strongman. Union finance minister P Chidambaram recently described Modi a “formidable rival” while home minister Sushilkumar Shinde had dismissed the Gujarat chief minister, saying that he was not a threat.
On earlier occasions too, the normally reticent Singh has taken a tough line on Modi, though he rarely names him. In the past, he has described Modi as a “divisive” figure, and during the recent election campaign had charged him with resorting to falsehood for political gains. "In his zeal to malign others, a big BJP leader often resorts to falsehoods. He frequently distorts historical facts. Once in his enthusiasm to attack Congress, he misrepresented facts about a leader who is respected a lot in BJP," the PM said recently.
On his part, Modi has been harsh on Singh in all his public meetings.
READ: Full text of PM's speech
FULL COVERAGE: HINDUSTAN TIMES LEADERSHIP SUMMIT