Congress must project a PM candidate, says Chidambaram

Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Monday called on his party, the Indian National Congress (more generally known as simply the Congress party), to name its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 General Elections, saying that voters like to know who will lead the party – and the government, if it manages to form one.

In an interview with CNBC-TV18, he made it clear that he was speaking in his personal capacity. "I can't speak for the party. You are interviewing me as a minister. Well if you ask my opinion I can give you my opinion, but I can't characterise anything as an error or otherwise.

''I think today parliamentary elections as well as state elections voters tend to ask,' who is the leader?' Therefore in my view the party should project a person as the leader of the party who will become prime minister if the party forms the government," he said.

He also rubbished the perception that that the Bharatiya Janata Party's anointed prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is unbeatable. "Nobody is unbeatable. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses," he said.

His statements come in the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deciding to address the media on 3 January - which will be the first formal press conference in nearly five years by the reclusive PM, often blamed for his sphinx-like silence on issues burning the country.

The press conference is likely to set the tone for the Congress election agenda in 2014. The party is definitely on the back foot vis--vis the BJP, with Modi seen as a 'doer' while Singh is seen as a waffle-server heading a government that is widely perceived as being mired in corruption.

Singh is expected to essentially talk of his own achievements in the last 10 years, as he has often been accused of not doing enough and of being a very poor team leader.

There has been a chorus within the Congress party to nominate party vice president Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate.

Gandhi has been very active in the recent weeks and has spoken on a host of issues which have been contrary to government's stand particularly on an ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers. However, despite occasional and peremptory pro-people statements, he is perceived as a poor performer when it comes to actually leading a party or a country.