India's Singh rules out 3rd term as prime minister

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday ruled out a third term if the United Progressive Alliance led by his Congress party wins the upcoming general election, saying India is ready to be guided by a "new generation of our leaders."

"In a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister," Singh said in a rare press conference ahead of the election for the lower house of Parliament, which is due to be held by May.

The 81-year-old leader said his party's vice president, 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, has "outstanding credentials" to be nominated as its candidate for prime minister. Gandhi, from the politically influential Nehru-Gandhi family, is the son of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress and its allies, which have been in power since 2004, are not a shoe-in to win the general election, especially after losing ground to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in recent assembly elections in four politically crucial states.

Singh vowed that Congress, which has ruled India for most of the six decades since its independence, will "reflect on what the results tell us for the future and learn lessons."

Asked about the BJP'S candidate Narendra Modi, Singh said it would "disastrous" for India if he were to become prime minister and predicted that the controversial Gujarat state minister's dream of forming a non-Congress government at the center is "not going to materialize."

The 64-year-old Hindu nationalist, who had led Gujarat since 2001, has been criticized for his failure, and alleged unwillingness, to prevent the communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in the western state in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Terming his own tenure as prime minister "successful," Singh said the growth rate the country witnessed during his two terms was the "highest ever" in any nine years in India's history, and better than it was under the BJP's 1998-2004 rule.

"And it is not just the acceleration of growth that gives me satisfaction. Equally important is the fact that we made the growth process more socially inclusive than it has ever been," he said.

He noted that the percentage of the population below the poverty line fell much faster in 2004-2011 than in the previous 10 years.

On Pakistan, Singh said the political environment was "not conducive" for him to visit the neighboring country during the past nine-and-a-half years of his premiership, but he added that he hopes to go there during the remainder of his tenure.