India's Rahul Gandhi forecasts victory in first TV interview

Congress Party Vice President, Rahul Gandhi delivers his speech during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in New Delhi on Jan 17, 2014. Mr Rahul Gandhi, whose family have dominated post-independence politics in India, forecast
Congress Party Vice President, Rahul Gandhi delivers his speech during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in New Delhi on Jan 17, 2014. Mr Rahul Gandhi, whose family have dominated post-independence politics in India, forecast an unlikely victory for his beleaguered Congress party in upcoming elections as he gave his first ever television interview on Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Mr Rahul Gandhi, whose family have dominated post-independence politics in India, forecast an unlikely victory for his beleaguered Congress party in upcoming elections as he gave his first ever television interview on Monday.

The 43-year-old, the ruling Congress party's de facto prime ministerial candidate, linked surging opposition leader Narendra Modi from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) with religious riots in his state in 2002.

And dismissing polls which show his party heading for an electoral humiliation, Mr Gandhi declared he was "reasonably confident" about securing a third consecutive term for the left-leaning Congress.

"I will win the election," Mr Gandhi told Times Now, according to transcript released by the channel.

His comments come after a weekend survey showed the graft-tainted Congress, which has ruled India for the last decade, would win just 92 to 108 seats in elections due by May, down from 204 it holds now.

Mr Gandhi has kept a low profile since entering politics as an MP in 2004, rarely speaking in or outside of parliament, and refusing various opportunities to join the cabinet of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

His great grandfather was iconic post-independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru, while his grandmother and father were also prime ministers. His mother Sonia is current president of the Congress party.

Mr Gandhi said he was against the idea of hereditary power, despite a victory for the Congress party meaning that he would almost certainly become prime minister.

"I am absolutely against the concept of dynasty, anybody who knows me knows that and understands that," he told the combative news anchor Arnab Goswami.

"But you are not going to wish away dynasty in a closed system, you have to open the system," he added.

On Mr Modi, whose BJP is poised to win between 211 and 231 seats in the 552-seat lower decision-making house of parliament according to the latest survey, Mr Gandhi sought to link him personally to riots in 2002.

The violence in Gujarat, which Mr Modi has ruled since 2001, left up to 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead and mr Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to the bloodletting.

He has never been found guilty and investigations have cleared him of personal wrong-doing.

"The Gujarat riots took place, people died, Mr Narendra Modi was in charge of Gujarat at that point," Mr Gandhi said, according to the transcript.

He added that "the government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further".

Ms Maya Kodnani, who Mr Modi later made a minister in his cabinet, was found guilty of abetting the riots in 2012.

Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently slammed Mr Modi, saying that his reputation for decisive leadership was undermined by him "presiding over the massacre of innocent citizens".