India ruling party urges Rahul Gandhi to stand for PM

JAIPUR, India (AFP) - Leaders of the ruling Congress party on Saturday clamoured for Rahul Gandhi - scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty - to be named the prime ministerial candidate ahead of next year's polls.

Mr Gandhi, 42, has preferred to take a back seat in the party's politics until now, concentrating instead on leading the Congress youth wing into the general elections due in 2014.

But Oil Minister Veerappa Moily hailed Mr Gandhi as the country's leader for the "present and for the future" at a meeting of the party in the tourist city of Jaipur in northern India aimed at brainstorming for the 2014 elections.

Another veteran Congress member, Mani Shankar Aiyar, said the party would back Mr Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all led India, should he decide to accept a bigger role.

Sanjay Nirupam, a Congress leader from the western Maharashtra state, also pitched at the meeting for Mr Gandhi to be formally projected as the new leader and provide a fresh momentum to the party's electoral fortunes.

Mr Gandhi "is our candidate for the post of prime minister after the 2014 elections", Mr Nirupam told reporters at the weekend meeting where pictures of the young politician were prominently featured.

Calls for Mr Gandhi to take a greater role within the party have become louder in recent months, especially in the wake of reverses suffered by the Congress-led government in some of its traditional strongholds.

Congress, India's oldest political party, was routed in polls in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Goa last year.

Manmohan Singh, the 80-year-old current prime minister, has been buffeted by falling economic growth and a damaging series of corruption scandals.

But Mr Gandhi's appetite for India's turbulent political scene has often been questioned by critics due to his refusal to accept repeated requests to take on ministerial responsibilities.

Sonia Gandhi, mother of Rahul Gandhi, and Congress party president, on Friday said the meeting was taking place as Congress faces "serious challenges" in states long-considered strongholds for the party.

She also conceded that some of the left-leaning government's wide-ranging welfare subsidy programmes had failed to reap political benefits.