Indian PM Singh says will step down after 2014 elections
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks on during a welcoming ceremony for the Maldives president in New Delhi on January 2, 2014
Singh also mounted his strongest attack yet on opposition leader Narendra Modi who has been making gains in opinion polls, despite his links to deadly religious riots in western Gujarat state in 2002.
"In a few months' time after the general elections, I will hand over the baton to a new prime minister," Singh said at a rare press conference where he confirmed his plans to retire as premier.
The 81-year-old had already hinted strongly at his intention to make way for leader-in-waiting Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi dynasty which has dominated India's politics since independence.
Singh said Congress would declare its prime ministerial candidate in due course, with commentators speculating the announcement could come at a party meeting set for January 17.
"Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials (to be prime minister). I hope our party will take that decision at an appropriate time," he added.
Polls show Congress is extremely unlikely to emerge as the winner in the world's biggest election due by May with Modi gaining traction with voters.
"It would be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as prime minister," Singh said.
Referring to Modi's reputation for decisive leadership, Singh said political strength was not demonstrated "by presiding over the massacre of innocent citizens".
As many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during religious riots in 2002 in Gujarat shortly after Modi came to power as chief minister of the economically vibrant state.
The 64-year-old Modi, who rose through grassroots Hindu organisations, has long been accused of turning a blind eye to the violence. But several investigations have cleared him of personal involvement.
A woman who he later appointed as a state minister was sentenced to 28 years in jail for instigating the carnage.
During his time as premier, Singh has seen his formerly stellar reputation based on his work as a reforming finance minister in the 1990s tarnished by a string of corruption scandals and slowing economic growth.
He mounted a defence of his legacy, regretting high inflation, the graft scandals and weak growth in manufacturing output, but hailing his government's work for the rural poor and farmers.
On average over the nine years of his two terms, economic growth was "the highest of any nine-year period" since India's independence in 1947.
Economic growth in the last fiscal year was 5.0 percent, its weakest in a decade, but Singh insisted the medium-term trend was healthy.
"It is not just the acceleration of growth that gives me satisfaction. Equally important is that we made the growth process more socially inclusive than it has ever been.
"In 2004, I committed our government to a new deal for rural India. I believe we have delivered on that promise."
Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India, has shunned several invitations to join the government and remains only intermittently in the spotlight.
The media-shy bachelor accepted the position of number two in the party in January last year -- second only to his mother Sonia -- raising hopes he would play a larger public role in setting policy and priorities.
His popularity among voters also remains in doubt, with Congress suffering a series of state election routs in the final months of 2013 despite him being projected as the party's new face.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said later the opposition party "wish him (Singh) all the best" after he steps down as premier.
But he said Singh's two-terms in office had been "a wasted opportunity".
He predicted the next election would bring "bad news for the Congress party and it is bad news primarily because of the failures of Dr Manmohan Singh's government".
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