UK & World News

  • 3 January 2014, 15:33

Indian PM Backs Rahul Gandhi As His Successor

Manmohan Singh has announced he will be standing down after 10 years as India's Prime Minister, paving the way for Rahul Gandhi to lead the country if his party wins the next election in May.

Mr Singh said the 43-year-old heir to India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty had "outstanding credentials".

He is already the ruling Congress Party's number two, behind his mother Sonia - the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi - who is its president, and he is chief strategist for the national polls.

In only his third news conference in a decade, Mr Singh said: "I have ruled myself out as a prime ministerial candidate.

"Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated as the candidate and I hope our party will take that decision at an appropriate time."

His party is due to hold a top-level meeting on January 17 and is expected to announce its candidate soon afterwards.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, spearheaded by Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, has the momentum ahead of the polls.

However, Mr Modi, chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years, is seen as an extremely divisive figure in a country with many cultures and a sizeable minority non-Hindu population.

He has been accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people were killed - most of them Muslims.

Mr Modi has denied any role in the violence and said he had been "shaken to the core" by the killings.

The outgoing PM said it would be disastrous if Mr Modi were to be elected to lead the nation.

"Without discussing the merits of Modi, it would be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as the next prime minister," Mr Singh said.

His announcement comes at a time when support for the Congress Party has been eroded by corruption scandals and decade-low growth.

Asked about BJP claims that he was a "weak" prime minister, Mr Singh said: "If by a strong prime minister they mean you preside over the massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmadabad, if that is the measure of strength, I do not believe that is the sort of strength this country needs, least of all from its prime minister."

The BJP was quick to respond to Mr Singh's comments about Mr Modi's leadership credentials, accusing Mr Singh of bringing "agony and misery to the country and its people because of his shameful governance".

"You are nobody to call (Modi) a disaster," Ravi Shankar Prasad, a BJP leader, said of Mr Singh.

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