Singh ready for PM Rahul 'any day'

New Delhi, April 5: Manmohan Singh today dismissed as "useless" the debate on "two power centres" while expressing his readiness to see Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister.

However, asked whether he was ready for a third term, the Prime Minister did not rule it out while dismissing the question as "hypothetical".

"Oh yes, any day," Singh told journalists, asked if he would welcome Rahul as the next Prime Minister.

Rahul had yesterday described such media queries as "irrelevant" and said they "drive me nuts".

Singh, talking informally to the media after a Padma awards event at Rashtrapati Bhavan, also described Rahul's speech at the CII conference yesterday as "excellent".

Asked about a possible third term, Singh said: "It is a hypothetical question… we are yet to complete this term."

Queried whether he was ruling out a third term for himself, he said: "I am neither ruling it in, nor ruling it out."

Last week too, Singh had described a similar question as "hypothetical" and added: "We will cross that bridge when we reach there."

Most Congress leaders found nothing wrong in the remark, saying it was the safest thing to say at this stage, though some felt Singh should have echoed party workers' desire to see Rahul as Prime Minister.

Asked about the "two power centres", the Prime Minister today said: "This is the creation of the media. It is a useless debate."

The Opposition has been harping on the subject for the past nine years. Last week, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh fuelled the debate further by saying that two power centres were not a good thing for governance and that the Manmohan-Sonia model had not worked well.

Sources said Singh had been hurt by the statement but the Congress took a full six days to clarify its stance.

Giving the party's official view, Congress media department chief Janardan Dwivedi on Wednesday said the Manmohan-Sonia arrangement was unique and ideal for the future too.

But the debate refuses to go away despite both the Prime Minister and the Congress president taking extreme care to project their roles as complementary and avoid any impression of any competition or conflict between them.

There have been problems sometimes despite a clear division of responsibilities but the Congress has managed to keep them under wraps for nine years. Whenever any leader has tried to undermine Singh's authority, Sonia and Rahul have clamped down on the murmurs with full force.

Most party leaders resent the dual arrangement but the Congress cannot officially contribute to the de-legitimisation of a model that has run the government for nine years.

Yet, as election time draws closer, the debate can only intensify no matter how forcefully Sonia, Rahul and Singh dismiss it as bogus or irrelevant.

Asked to explain the confusing messages sent out by the statements of Singh, Dwivedi and Digvijaya, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi struggled for an answer before saying there was no contradiction.

'Buffalo' barb

The Congress today denied that Rahul was alluding to Narendra Modi when he ridiculed the idea of a superhero who would arrive on horseback to solve all the country's problems. It said what Rahul meant was that no single individual could achieve this task.

"Agar Modi ke bare me bolte to ghora nahi bhainsa kehte (Had Rahul been speaking of Modi, he would have said 'buffalo', not 'horse')," party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.

He dismissed claims that Modi would repay his debt to the country after repaying his debt to Gujarat.

"If he wants to pay back the debt he owes the nation in the same manner that he has done in Gujarat, we are scared. We can only say, 'Lord Ram, save us'. We can only ask Khuda for help," Alvi said.

He said Rahul had provided the country with a broad vision by asking for a coalition of the poor, middle classes and the corporate world because an inclusive politics alone can ensure meaningful development.