India PM to step down after polls
India's prime minister has announced that he will step aside after 10 years following this summer's general election and said Rahul Gandhi should replace him if the ruling Congress Party manages to stay in power.
In only his third news conference in a decade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Mr Gandhi - the 43-year-old heir to India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty - has the best credentials to become the next head of the Congress Party and prime minister of the world's biggest democracy.
Mr Singh is 81 and was not expected to seek another term. "I have ruled myself out as a prime ministerial candidate," he said. "Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials. ... I do hope the party will take the right decision at the appropriate time."
Today's news conference came as the Congress Party's stock is low, battered by corruption scandals, internal feuding, and an inability to deal with a stumbling economy and deep-rooted problems with poverty, infrastructure and education.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi, has the momentum ahead of the May elections, after trouncing Congress in recent state polls. The vote was seen as a gauge of voter sentiment in the secular country of 1.2 billion.
Mr Singh said it would be disastrous if Mr Modi became prime minister.
Mr Modi, chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years, is credited with turning his western state into an industrial haven. But critics question whether the Hindu nationalist chief can be a truly secular leader over India's many cultures.
Mr Modi has been accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002, which left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
"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.
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." Ahmadabad is the commercial centre of Gujarat.
Mr Modi has denied any role in the violence and says he bears no responsibility for the killings. Last month, he said that he had been "shaken to the core" by the violence and that his government responded to it swiftly and decisively.
The BJP was quick to hit back at Mr Singh today, saying that with corruption scandals erupting around the government, the prime minister was in no position to criticise Mr Modi.
Mr Singh brought "agony and misery to the country and its people because of his shameful governance," Ravi Shankar Prasad, a top BJP leader, told reporters.
"You are nobody to call (Modi) a disaster," Mr Prasad said of Mr Singh.