Gandhi's Congress party heads the coalition that has governed
India for a decade. Buffeted by corruption scandals, low economic
growth and high inflation, the party is facing strong opposition
challenges in the election due by May.
"I am a soldier of Congress. Whatever order is given to me I will
follow it. Whatever Congress says, I will follow it," Gandhi, 43,
said in a rare interview with the Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar,
which describes itself as India's most widely read daily.
Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all
prime ministers in post-independence India, made the remarks ahead
of a party meeting on Friday focusing on the election.
Current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this month ruled out serving
another term if his party won the election and threw his support to
Gandhi, praising his "outstanding credentials".
Many party workers, including senior ministers, are pushing for
Gandhi's name to be announced as prime ministerial candidate. A
section of the party, however, thinks that would expose him to a
confrontational campaign against opposition leader Narendra Modi,
whose style is seen as more dynamic.
Gandhi said Congress does not traditionally announce prime
ministerial candidates during a campaign, but said he would respect
the party's decision.
If nominated, Gandhi would take on Modi, the candidate of the Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is campaigning on a
platform to end the red tape and graft that have bedevilled the
Compared with the relatively untested Gandhi, Modi has years of
experience as the chief minister of western Gujarat state, where he
has built a reputation as an efficient, business-savvy
administrator, though critics deride him as authoritarian.
Gandhi said a "one-man" government was not in the national interest.
"The government should not function according to the whims and fancy
of a single person," he told the newspaper.
[to top of second column]
OPPOSITION LEADER TOPS OPINION POLLS
Opinion polls put Modi in the lead, even as he has been unable to
shake off allegations over anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.
At least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims. Modi denies
wrongdoing and a Supreme Court investigation found no evidence to
The Congress meeting is also expected to inject life into its
slow-moving campaign. At the same meeting last year, Rahul was made
party vice-president. His mother, Sonia Gandhi is party president.
Congress leaders are also worried about the rise of the Aam Aadmi
Party (AAP), formed by an anti-corruption crusader less than a year
ago. The AAP defeated Congress in New Delhi in a state election last
month and plans to field candidates across India, increasing the
chances of a weak coalition emerging from the vote.
Gandhi has in recent months railed against corruption to win back
voters who backed the AAP and appeal to young audiences. He sought
to distance himself from the AAP in the interview.
"Congress is a strong and progressive organization which has changed
the nature and role of politics in the country and we aim to
continue the trend," he said.
"The Aam Aadmi Party has also worked toward this direction, but we
are two different entities with different ideology and different
style of working."
(Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar and Nigam Prusty;
editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ron Popeski)
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