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Manmohan Singh Signals He Would Be Willing To Step Aside For Rahul Gandhi

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By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi

3:57PM BST 30 Jun 2011

"Whenever the (Congress) Party makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down, but so long as I am here I have a job to do" the 78-year old Oxbridge- educated economist said in response to questions on 41-year old Rahul replacing him posed by a group of newspaper editors in New Delhi on Tuesday.

"The general proposition that younger people should take over is the right sentiment" said Dr Singh, whose federal Congress Party-led coalition is besieged by corruption scandals, charges of non-governance and poor performance.

This acknowledgement follows renewed calls by senior Congress Party leaders for Rahul Gandhi -himself an MP – to succeed Dr Singh, who has been labelled a "lame duck" prime minister for his remaining three-year term.

Congress Party circles believe the premiership was Rahul Gandhi's 'birthright' as he is the son of Congress party head Sonia Gandhi and heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for almost four decades since independence 64 years ago.

After re-election in 2009, Dr Singh's administration has been rocked by financial scandals associated with last years Commonwealth Games, the questionable auctioning of telecommunication and oil and gas exploration licenses to private concessionaires.

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Several senior cabinet ministers and officials had been arrested in these cases which were under investigation.

The prime minister has also come under fire for 'non-governance', mounting inflation and his growing disconnect with the public that had collectively undermined his leadership and his party's credibility, triggering a whispering campaign for change at the top before the 2014 general elections.

There is speculation in Delhi that Dr Singh could well succeed Pratibha Patil as president after her term ends next July.

Some Congress Party insiders believe he would make an excellent president whose as titular head of State performed a ceremonial role.

Cambridge and Harvard-educated Rahul's father Rajiv Gandhi followed his mother Indira as India's prime minister in 1985 who in turn, succeeded her father Jawaharlal Nehru in the same job.

Jawaharlal's father Motilal, who launched the dynasty at the turn of the 20th century, was a prominent Congress Party leader who ensured his son's elevation to the country's top job after independence in 1947.

And after Rajiv Gandhi's Italian-born widow Sonia led the Congress Party to two surprising electoral victories in 2004 and again five years later, Rahul's ascension to the PM's post has been considered inevitable in official circles even though he has never held a ministerial portfolio.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984 for ordering the army attack on the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holy shrine in the northern city of Amritsar to flush out armed separatists hiding inside.

Seven years later her son Rajiv who succeeded her as prime minister was killed by a female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber at an election rally in southern India for sending an expeditionary force to Sri Lanka to disarm the rebels fighting for independence in a move which led to large scale violence.

Rahul keeps his political ambitious close to his chest although his aides privately maintain that as party general secretary he is intent on reviving the Congress' political fortunes in northern India, where it has been out of power for decades, before considering the top post.

Over the past five years, however, his political record has been mixed with a few marginal successes but he features prominently on party hoardings and publications flanked by the ageing Dr Singh and his beaming mother and all his proposals are immediately sanctioned.

In public appearances however he appears nervous and uncomfortable, lacking his mother's chutzpah, which resulted in a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks earlier this year calling him a "neophyte who does not have what it takes to be prime minister."

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