Sonia Gandhi, Singh to fight India elections: Congress

NEW DELHI (AFP) - 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 on Saturday.

The issue of whom the embattled Congress will project as premier has become a matter 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 in televised remarks.

"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 Mr Rahul Gandhi, 42, who comes from a line of three prime ministers and has widely been seen as being groomed for the job, called on Thursday the issue of whether he would be the prime ministerial candidate "irrelevant".

Prime Minister Singh, 80, indicated on 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 in the 2014 elections.

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 the deadly 2002 religious riots.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, meanwhile, said separately on Saturday that 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," Mr Chidambaram told a news conference at which he outlined the government's economic plans for its remaining time in office.

The southern politician and pro-market reformer, who has emerged as a key government trouble-shooter, is also often mentioned as a potential prime ministerial candidate.

Talk of snap polls has been fanned by the exit of the coalition's two biggest allies in recent months, leaving it in a vulnerable minority parliamentary position.