NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Friday he would step down after 10 years in office if his party stays in power in this year's general elections, paving the way for Rahul Gandhi to take the reins in the world's biggest democracy.
In only his third news conference in a decade, Singh said that Gandhi — the heir to India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty — has the best credentials to become the next head of the Congress Party and prime minister. Singh is 81 and was not expected to seek another term.
Singh's news conference comes at a time when the stock of his ruling Congress Party is low. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi, has the momentum ahead of a general election due in May, after trouncing Congress in recent state elections.
"I have ruled myself out as a prime ministerial candidate," Singh said. "Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials ... I do hope the party will take the right decision at the appropriate time."
Singh said that it would be disastrous if Modi became prime minister.
Modi, chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years, has been accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in the state in 2002, which left more than 1,000 dead.
Singh, a technocrat, was chosen to fill the prime minister's seat in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
But he has been widely seen as a regent, keeping the seat warm until Rahul Gandhi was ready to take what some see as his birthright.