New Delhi: It was a day rarely seen in Indian politics when top leaders of the country's main parties took to the stage in a bid to woo corporate India. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi pitched hard to India Inc at Confederation of Indian Industries in the national capital and unveiled his vision of inclusive development, seeking partnership with the corporate sector but made it abundantly clear that he was not in the race for the Prime Minister's post. Hours later Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi hinted at his interest in the high post when he said in Gandhinagar, that he had repaid the debt of Gujarat and now people wanted him to repay India's debt.
"Log kah rahe hain Narendra Modi ne Gujarat ka karz chuka diya hai ab Hindustan ka karz chukane ko kah rahe hain (People are saying that I have repaid the debt of Gujarat and they are now asking me to repay the debt owned to India)," Modi said.
Knocking the audience off with his self-deprecating humour, on the other hand, Rahul expressed his disinterest to be in the race for the top post. "These are irrelevant questions. It's all smoke. I got press guys asking when are you getting married. Somebody else saying, boss, when are you going to be the Prime Minister. Somebody saying, no you are are not going to be PM, somebody say may be you will be PM," Rahul said as the audience, comprised of India's business tycoons, laughed and cheered on.
Describing his advent into politics as "an accident of fate" and "DNA" linkage with a particular family, Rahul said, "I am not a hard-nosed politician... I don't want to become one." He sought to dispel the notion that "one person charging on a horse" would fix all the problems of the country. "No, it is not like that," he added.
The rumour mill is on an overdrive that the 2014 elections will be a face-off between the Congress youth leader and the Gujarat strongman. However, even as the BJP flayed Rahul's speech as "confusion confounded" and said that it was reflective of "Modi phobia", the Congress was quick to brush aside any Rahul-Modi comparison.
"With one single appearance in public today, Rahulji has shown that nobody can be compared with him... Rahulji's vision and Rahulji's ideas, I don't think Modi or anybody can come nearer to that and comparisons are done by someone who is interested in propping up Modi," PC Chacko said.
However, Rahul's speech was devoid of specifics on ways to bring the Indian economy back on the growth path, tackling inflation, price rise, kickstarting industrial growth, reviving the agricultural sector and controlling the ballooning fiscal deficit.
However, the speech by Rahul Gandhi and the statement by Narendra Modi have clearly indicated that battlelines for 2014 have been drawn and the two parties will not let go of any opportunity to take potshots at each other's top leaders and their likely PM candidates for the 2014 elections.
With inputs from PTI