Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the dynasty that has led India for most of its modern history, has said he is ready to be prime minister if his party wins forthcoming elections, his first indication that he wants the job.
Mr 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,” Mr Gandhi, 43, said yesterday in a rare interview with the Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar, which describes itself as India’s most widely read daily paper.
Mr 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 offered support to Mr Gandhi, praising his “outstanding credentials”.
Many party workers, including senior ministers, are pushing for Mr Gandhi’s name to be announced as a 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.
Mr Modi, the candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is campaigning on a platform to end the red tape and graft that have bedevilled the Congress-led coalition.
Compared with the relatively untested Mr Gandhi, Mr 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.
Mr Gandhi also 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.
Opinion polls put Mr Modi in the lead, though 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.
Mr Modi denies wrongdoing and a Supreme Court investigation found no evidence to prosecute him.
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. It 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.
Mr Gandhi has in recent months railed against corruption to win back voters who backed the AAP and appeal to young audiences.
In the interview, he said: “Congress is a strong and progressive organisation which has changed the nature and role of politics in the country and we aim to continue the trend.
“The Aam Aadmi Party has also worked toward this direction, but we are two different entities with different ideology and different styles of working.”