Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday expressed his readiness to make way for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and hoped he would be the leader of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the future.
Speaking to reporters after the swearing-in of eight new ministers at Rashtrapati Bhavan here, the prime minister said the Congress faces no threat from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and described Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a "secular leader".
The prime minister said he had always believed Rahul Gandhi was fit to be leader of the UPA.
"I have always said I would be very happy to see Rahul step into my shoes," the prime minister said when asked about Rahul Gandhi's candidature for the post of prime minister.
"Rahul Gandhi is a national leader. He has all the right qualities that a leader should have. I hope he will be a leader of the UPA alliance," the prime minister added.
The prime minister's remarks are being considered significant in the light of perceived unwillingness of Congress to project a prime ministerial candidate for 2014 polls. Manmohan Singh had earlier not ruled himself out for a third innings at the helm if the Congress-led UPA won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress has said that Manmohan Singh will continue to be prime minister till 2014, but has been non-committal about its prime ministerial candidate for the coming general elections.
Manmohan Singh expressed optimism about the Congress forming the government after the next general elections.
"I always believe we will have a third go (after the elections) as the UPA and people will again repose their faith in us," he said.
The prime minister slammed Modi, who heads the campaign committee of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the Lok Sabha polls.(
"(Modi) is no threat for us. People of India know what he stands for... People have to draw their own conclusion," Singh said.
The prime minister described Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as "secular" but did not speculate on an alliance between his party and Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
"There are no permanent friends or enemies. We take decisions as situation evolves. I can't speculate on what happens in the future," he said.
The prime minister said the government needs the support of all right-thinking parties.
On the concerns expressed by BJP leader L.K. Advani about organisational issues in the saffron party, the prime minister said it was (their) internal affair.
BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Congress "should open a centre to issue certificates of secularism".
"The centre should decide who is secular and who is not. What is this logic that the person who is not with them is communal and who is with them is secular," Naqvi said.
Referring to the prime minister's remarks that people have to draw their own conclusion about Modi, Naqvi said: "Modi is an icon of good governance, development and nationalism."