Rahul Gandhi as PM? NCP says Manmohan doing a good job

March 30th, 2008 - 1:31 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi should prove himself before being projected as a prime ministerial candidate, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) says, adding it prefers incumbent Manmohan Singh. As the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi takes a more active interest in politics, the NCP has said that it would prefer if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was picked for the top job for a second term ahead of the general election.

NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi told IANS: “Rahul Gandhi will have to prove himself before being projected as a prime ministerial candidate. It is, however, for the Congress to decide.”

Tripathi stressed that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) should project a united face when it enters the parliamentary battle next year.

“The Congress should also discuss the leadership issue with its partners. We have no prejudices against any name,” he quickly added.

What about Manmohan Singh’s qualifications? The NCP has no doubts he will serve the country well. “He is doing a good job as prime minister,” Tripathi said.

NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, however, has said that the Congress should lead the UPA in the next Lok Sabha contest.

The Congress is of course miffed with Pawar for declaring support for Manmohan Singh as the future prime ministerial candidate - remarks that only mean that no one else will be acceptable to the NCP.

A Congress leader said on grounds of anonymity: “It is for Sonia Gandhi to decide who will be the prime ministerial candidate. There is no need to discuss it now.”

The Congress believes that the sensitive topic of leadership, at this juncture, could work negatively for Rahul Gandhi, who many in the party say may be one day anointed prime minister if the UPA gets a majority in the Lok Sabha.

In the process, bitter memories involving Pawar are being revived. The Congress in 1999 expelled Pawar along with P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar for raising the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and opposing her prime ministerial ambitions just ahead of the general election that year.

Since then the Congress and the NCP - but not Sangma - have hugged and made up. But irritants keep coming up in their love-hate relationship.

The NCP’s public endorsement of support for Manmohan Singh is the latest in the line-up.

A Congress leader described the latest comment as Pawar’s “polite periodic reminder” that he is his own boss even if the NCP is a small fry in the larger UNP alliance.

Despite being a member of the UPA, the NCP has time and again voiced its reservations over the way the ruling coalition has functioned since taking power in May 2004.

The NCP believes that Manmohan Singh - who anyhow enjoys the trust of Sonia Gandhi - is the most democratic face of the UPA. This is seen as an implicit criticism of the Italy-born Sonia Gandhi, who could well have become prime minister in 2004 but chose to hand over the baton to Manmohan Singh instead.

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