Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Friday he will not seek a third term after the parliamentary election in May and declared, in unexpectedly sharp terms, that BJP’s Narendra Modi will be a disaster if he got to rule India.
“Without discussing the merits of Narendra Modi, I sincerely believe that it will be disastrous for the country to have Modi as the PM,” he told the media here. “India does not want such a prime minister.”
In the harshest criticism by him of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee, Manmohan Singh mocked at the Gujarat chief minister’s credentials for the country’s top job.
“If by strong prime minister you mean you preside over the massacre of innocents on the streets of Ahmedabad, that is not the kind of strength I will like to have.”
In the same breath, the 81-year-old leader, who has been prime minister since 2004 at the head of a Congress-led UPA coalition, announced that “in a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister.
“I hope it will be a UPA chosen prime minister,” he said. “I will not be a candidate for prime ministership after the election.”
Manmohan Singh, whose government is facing a crisis of confidence and faced pointed questions on his performance and leadership, didn’t say who will be the UPA’s prime ministerial choice but rooted for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
“Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated as the prime ministerial candidate, and I hope our party will take that decision at the appropriate time.”
In the 75-minute formal press conference, the first such in three years, the economist-turned-politician answered a variety of questions — ranging from corruption to growth to Pakistan and the US.
Rebutting criticism about his performance, Manmohan Singh said history would be kinder to him than the media or the opposition, and insisted that he had done his best.
“I do not believe I am a weak prime minister. That is is for historians to judge… Taking into account the circumstances and compulsions of coalition polity, I have done as best as I could.
“When history is written of this period, we will come out unscathed,” he said philosophically. He admitted there were “irregularities” but said “dimensions of the problems were overstated..”
He also admitted that rising food prices was a key reason why the Congress lost elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
“I will be honest enough to say that price rise was a factor…”
The prime minister described corruption as a “monster” but “dealing with (it) is not an easy process even though there may be opportunities as well as challenges.
“We must collectively grapple with the task of dealing with corruption. This is not a matter which only one party can accomplish… Political parties have to work together to deal with this monster.”
He agreed that the one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party took power in Delhi by articulating people’s concerns over corruption. “Whether they will succeed or not, only time will tell.”
Despite announcing that he won’t be the prime minister for another term, Manmohan Singh said he had enjoyed his work in the last 10 years, and that he never felt like quitting.
Did he ever feel like giving up out of frustration or was he ever asked to quit by the party?
“I never felt like resigning at any time. I have enjoyed doing my work. I have tried to do my work with all honesty, with all sense of integrity without regard for fear or favour.”
He said the party, particularly Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was always very supportive of his actions and did not feel the dual centres of power were a “disadvantage”.
In fact, it helped the government to do many course corrections at times, he said, without elaborating.
Manmohan Singh said he did desire to go Pakistan and added that the India-US row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York would end soon.
Asked why he had not gone to Pakistan since taking office in 2004, he said he “would very much like to go to Pakistan.
“I was born in a village which is now part of west Punjab. But as prime minister, I should go to Pakistan if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results.
“Ultimately I felt that the circumstances were not appropriate (to visit Pakistan). I still have not given up the hope of going to Pakistan before (giving up office).”
On Indo-US ties, he said: “There have been recently some hiccups but I sincerely believe these are temporary aberrations, and diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve the issues that have arisen.”