India's ruling Congress will fight the 2014 general elections under the leadership of party president Sonia Gandhi and octogenarian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a senior party leader said Saturday.
The issue of whom the embattled Congress will project as premier has become a topic of heated speculation with Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi, the next in line in India's top political dynasty, showing deep reluctance to take the role.
The party will fight the 2014 polls "under the leadership of (party president and Rahul's mother) Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh" and will not project any prime ministerial candidate, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said.
"We will go to the elections under (their) leadership," the veteran party leader said.
"If we get a majority and form the government, it will be decided then who will be the prime minister," he added.
His statements came after Gandhi, 42, who hails from a line of three prime ministers and has widely been seen as being groomed for the job, called the issue of whether he would be the prime ministerial candidate "irrelevant" on Thursday.
Prime Minister Singh, 80, indicated Friday he might be willing to continue in the job, telling reporters, "I am not ruling it in, I am not ruling it out," after being initially expected to bow out of politics.
India's Hindu nationalist opposition BJP is expected to field Gujarat chief Narendra Modi, 62, who is hailed as an economic manager but is a divisive figure nationally after being at the state's helm during deadly 2002 religious riots.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, a pro-market reformer who is also often mentioned as a potential prime ministerial candidate, said separately the government is determined to finish its five-year term.
"There will be no early elections. Elections will take place on time in May 2014," Chidambaram told a news conference as he issued an upbeat economic outlook, predicting faster growth and healthier public sector finances.
Talk of snap polls has been fanned by the exit of the scandal-tainted coalition's two biggest allies in recent months, leaving it in a vulnerable minority position in parliament.
But Chidambaram said the government had a wide-ranging economic agenda it wished to complete, including further opening up the insurance and pensions sectors to foreign investment.
He forecast India's record current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade which has triggered alarm among global credit ratings agencies, will fall to "a more tolerable and acceptable level".
Growth should quicken to over six percent in this financial year which began on April 1 from an estimated decade-low of five percent last year, he added.
The government is looking at a further easing of foreign direct investment caps -- after relaxing them in the aviation, retail and other sectors last September -- to attract vital funds from abroad, he added.
"If the cap is no longer serving a purpose, we should either relax the cap or remove the cap."