Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lashed out at opposition leader Narendra Modi on Friday, telling reporters that a Modi prime ministership would be “disastrous” for the country.
“If by strong prime minister you mean you preside over the mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad,” he said in a rare press conference on Jan. 3, “I do not believe that that this country needs that kind of strength.”
Modi, chief minister (CM) of the Western state of Gujarat, is campaigning to be India’s next leader on a platform of bringing the same administrative efficiency and economic development on a national scale he has introduced in Gujarat. But his rise in Indian politics has been controversial, since as many as 2,000 Muslims were killed in riots that erupted in Gujarat in 2002 when he was the state’s new CM. Critics have long alleged that, at worst, Modi incited the attacks and, at best, did not do enough to stop them. Modi has always denied all such accusations.
It was a surprisingly aggressive stance from the soft-spoken Singh, perhaps setting a more forceful tone to come from the ruling Congress Party ahead of national elections scheduled for the spring. Congress recently suffered a major defeat in several state elections, including in the capital region, and is up against a surge of attention on its rival Bharatiya Janata Party, whose candidate is Modi.
Singh, who is nearing the end of his second term, also said in a speech that he would not serve a third term after the spring polls. “In a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new Prime Minister,” Singh said.
Congress has yet to announce a prime ministerial candidate to go head to head with Modi, but Singh told reporters that “Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated and I hope our party will take the decision at an appropriate time.”