Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday announced that he would bow out of office after the Lok Sabha elections even if the UPA returned to power,ending speculation about his future amid a growing clamour in the Congress to name vice president Rahul Gandhi as the partys prime ministerial candidate well ahead of the polls.
Singh once again strongly backed Rahul to succeed him,even as he sharply attacked the BJPs prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi,saying as PM he would be disastrous for the country.
I will hand over the baton to a new prime minister after the elections, Singh told a press conference – only his third in nearly 10 years in office and the first in almost three years.
Singh claimed he had never felt like resigning at any time from the top job and expressed the hope that his successor would be from UPA.
Reaffirming his faith in Rahuls ability to take over from him,Singh said the Gandhi scion has outstanding credentials to be the PM candidate. The party,he said,would announce its PM candidate at the appropriate time.
Singh,however,was mostly defensive during his rare outing with the media when questioned about his record in office. He parried many questions,repeatedly taking shelter behind what he said was his belief that history would be kinder to him than the contemporary media or the opposition.
He sought to defend the governments record on corruption by arguing that the coal blocks allotment scandal and the 2G scam allegations pertained to UPA-1 after which the country had voted the alliance back to power in 2009. They do not seem to have paid heed to all charges of corruption, he said referring to voters,skirting the fact that the scandals hit the headlines after the 2009 elections.
He also blamed the media,the CAG and other organisations for having overstated the dimensions of irregularities in the allotments.
Defending the UPAs record on the economic front in his opening statement,the PM cited figures to claim the rate of growth achieved in the past nine years was the highest for any nine year period.
At the same time,Singh acknowledged the public concern on high profile allegations of corruption,notably in regard to 2G spectrum allocations,coal block allocations and cases related to land,and said his government had taken major steps to change the existing procedures for allocation of spectrum and coal by shifting to auctions so that these problems do not arise in future.
Where some decisions taken earlier,when allocations were made administratively,have come under question,they are being investigated. Any wrongdoing will be punished through due process of law, he added.
Responding to a query on the dual centres of power in the UPA,Singh said the arrangement where the Congress president and the prime minister did not happen to be the same person has under the circumstances worked exceedingly well.
Asked about the perception that decisions were taken at 10,Janpath – the residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhis – 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.
Singh conceded that price-rise could have been one of the factors behind the defeat of his party in the latest Assembly elections. But he asserted that the reasons for this spike in prices are reasons beyond our control.
International commodity prices are rising,because international energy prices are rising. These were the factors which made it difficult for us to control prices as effectively as we could have done, he added.
To a question on whether his image had been tainted by corruption allegations against the government,Singh said: I am the same person as I was years ago. There has been no change. I say it in all sincerity that I have tried to serve this country with utmost dedication and commitment and with utmost integrity. I have never used my office to enrich or to reward my friends or my relatives.
He also said that the Aam Aadmi Party had successfully channelised public sentiment against corruption into electoral victory. Whether they will succeed or not,I think that only time will tell. I have a feeling that dealing with corruption is not an easy process, he said.