New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today ruled himself out of the race for prime ministership after the next elections holding that Rahul Gandhi had “outstanding credentials” for the top job but said Narendra Modi as PM will be “disastrous” for the country.
He said the Congress party would decide on its prime ministerial candidate and announce it at an “appropriate” time.
Addressing a press conference, the third in his two terms, he sought to dispel the negative image of his government and the tag of weak prime minister for him after nine and half years in office saying he had done his best and put the country on a good growth momentum.
“I do not believe I am a weak prime minister. It is for historians to judge. The BJP and its associates may say whatever they like. If by strong prime minister you mean you preside over mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad, if that is the measure of strength, I do not believe that that this country needs that kind of strength.
In his opening statement itself, the Prime Minister said after the general elections in a few months time “I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister. I hope it will be a UPA chosen prime minister and our party will work to that end.”
The Prime Minister, faced a number of questions on corruption charges that sullied the image of UPA 2, asserted that the controversies surrounding coal blocks allocation scam and the 2G spectrum licences pertained to UPA I and people had voted the coalition back to power in 2009.
“Well as far as charge of corruption are concerned, most of the charges relate to period of UPA I. The coal block allocation as well 2G spectrum allocation, they were both in UPA I. We went to the electorate in 2009 and people gave us mandate to rule again.
“These charges have been raised from time to time by the media, CAG and courts. They belong to the previous five years. People of India entrusted us with the responsibility to rule Agni. They do no seem to have paid heed to all charges of corruption.,” he said.
Asked if he could have done something differently on the corruption issue since it has tainted his Mr. Clean image, Singh said he felt “somewhat sad. It was I who insisted that spectrum allocation should be transparent and fair. It was I who insisted that the allocation of coal blocks should be on the basis of auction. These facts were forgotten.
“Opposition has vested interests. Sometimes the media plays into their hands.When history is written we will come out unscathed. This is not to say that there are no irregularities. But the dimensions of the problem have been overstated by the media, by CAG sometimes and other entities.”
To various questions about his performance and how he would be judged, he said “I honestly believe that history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media or for that matter opposition parties.”
Replying to a question, Singh said he has indicated in his opening remarks that he is not going to be the candidate for prime ministership again. “Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be pm candidate.”
To another question, he said he has full confidence that the next prime minister would be from the UPA.
Asked whether a contest between Modi and Gandhi would be equal, he said “without discussing the merits of Narendra Modi, I sincerely believe that it will be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as prime minister.”
When a questioner asked him about Modi’s campaign theme of a Congress-free India, Singh shot back, ” I sincerely believe what Narendra Modi is saying, it is not going to materialise.”
To a query whether “dual centres of power” in Congress had affected his functioning, Modi said “I sincerely believe that the arrangement where the Congress President and the Prime Minister did not happen to be same person has under the circumstance worked exceedingly well.
“For me it was a remarkable achievement that I have been able to complete 10 years without any hiccups between the prime minister and Congress President. Sonia Gandhi’s support has been enormous. She was there to back me which facilitated my task in more than one way.”
Asked about the perception that the decisions were taken in 10, Janpath, a reference to Sonia Gandhi’s house, he said, “It is not a question of Congress President or the Vice President. If they have any view it ought to be reflected in the government to the extent possible. It is not a disadvantage or a drawback in our system.This has enabled us to deal with many issues.
“If the government recognised issues, I don’t think it is right to say that this is wrong or it is disadvantage to make corrections if the party leadership says it is required in national interest.”
Singh conceded that at times there were differences of view between the Congress party and the government and the government reconsidered decisions.
He claimed that when UPA I was elected there were many who had misgivings whether the Congress can run a coalition government.
“We showed that the congress party can coalition for two terms. There have been compromises. These compromises related to peripheral areas and not in areas that related to major national problems,” he said.
To a question whether the thought of resigning crossed his mind against the backdrop of scams and difficulties,”I never felt like resigning at any time. I enjoyed my work and did my job without fear or favour.”
But asked whether anyone in the Congress asked him to resign, Singh said, “Nobody had asked him to step down because of any inadequacies as prime minister.”
When one questioner suggested that as Finance Minister he was known as ‘no-nonsense man’ but as prime minister he had allowed a lot of nonsense, he said, “well what you think, what the country thinks, I cannot speculate. I had tried to serve the nation with great sense of dedication and commitment.”
To yet another question about whether there has been change in him in the last 10 years, the Prime Minister, “I am the same person that you have seen in the last 10 years.
There is no change and I say with all sincerity that I have tried to serve the country with utmost dedication, commitment and integrity.
“I have never used my office to enrich or reward my friends or relatives.”
Asked whether Aam Aadmi Party or Modi will be a greater challenge for Congress, Singh said corruption is an issue and AAP has been able to make a success of the concerns over the issue of eradicating it.
“But it is not an issue only one party can deal. All parties have to collectively address the issue.”
To a question on the AAP government in Delhi taking populist measures and whether they would hurt reforms, the Prime Minister said that people had reposed faith in the new party and they had to respect it.
But time will tell if this experiment to deal with corruption is successful. They have been in government only for a week.
Singh promised to act against anyone found involved in “wrongdoings” in government decisions within the due process of law.
Asked if he felt hurt that Rahul Gandhi had consistently refused join his government at his invitation, the prime minister said, “I have always felt that our government would have been strengthened if Rahul had joined.
But he has said he has responsibilities to the party and I respect his decision.”
On tackling corruption, he said the government wants an atmosphere in which it could push through 5 or 6 anti-corruption legislations in the remaining time of the government. He also wanted women’s reservation bill to be passed.
At the outset, the prime minister conceded that price rise could have been one of the factors in the defeat of Congress in the recent Assembly elections.
“Price rise was a factor in the people turning against Congress. The reasons for it were beyond our control as the prices of international commoditiess were rising making it difficult for us to control prices. But we have taken enough measures to protect the weaker sections. That should not be lost.”
“We will reflect on what the results tell us for the future and learn lessons,” he said.
Asked what he plans to do in future having ruled out yet another term, Singh, “I have not thought through it. It is too early. I have still five months to complete my present term. When I reach that stage, I will cross the bridge.”
When asked what were the best and lowest moments in his career as Prime Minister, he said, “Well, I will need time to reflect on this. Certainly I think the best moment was when we were able to strike a nuclear deal with the US.”