Cong to project Manmohan as PM candidate: Manmohan demurs

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New Delhi, Oct 1 (UNI) Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress Party today made it clear that it would project Dr Manmohan Singh as its Prime Ministerial candidate but the soft-spoken economist-politician demurred.

''It was too early to talk in terms of a potential Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections,'' Dr Singh said replying to a question on whether he would be anointed as the party's choice.

Speaking to reporters on board Air India One while returning from a two-nation visit to the US and France, the Prime Minister said, ''The Congress party has several leaders who are equally or better qualified than I am. I have not applied my mind to that sort of question,'' he added.

''Whatever Congress President Sonia Gandhi had said on the issue, that is the party's official line,'' AICC Spokesman Shakeel Ahmed told mediapersons, in reply to a question on the Prime Minister's statement.

Asked which statement of Ms Gandhi he was referring to, he said that ''the statement she made at the AICC on August 15.'' Ms Gandhi asked 'why not' when mediapersons wanted to know if Dr Singh would unfurl the national flag at the Red Fort at the Independence Day parade next year (2009).

The two-word remark of Ms Gandhi was interpreted as a clear indication of the decision of the Congress Party to project Dr Singh as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the ruling Congress-led UPA.

Asked if Dr Singh's statement meant that he would not be the contender for the post, leaving the chance to AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, Dr Shakeel said ''the Prime Minister's statement does not mean that there is a second thought in party about the issue.'' To repeated questions on Dr Singh's statement, he said "only the Prime Minister can respond to what he had said. However, this issue should be ended here." Asked if the Congress would declare its Prime Minister candidate before the next Lok Sabha elections, Dr Shakeel said ''we have not even finalised our manifesto.'' The Congress Party had discouraged the demand by some leaders like Mr Arjun Singh to project Mr Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress.

The demand for projecting Mr Gandhi gained momentum after the BJP announced Mr L K Advani as its Prime Ministerial candidate.

UNI RB/SH RP CS1918

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