By John Chalmers, Frank Jack Daniel and Manoj Kumar
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P. Chidambaram, now in his third stint as finance minister, spoke to Reuters about Narendra Modi and the 2014 elections in an interview on Monday ahead of a trip to the United States. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
If Congress returns to power in the elections next year and Rahul Gandhi is the prime minister, do you see yourself as finance minister?
That’s a question you should put to the prime minister. I am glad you acknowledge Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi but that is a question you should put to him.
What about Narendra Modi and the momentum he appears to be gaining?
I don’t know if he is gaining any momentum. I concede that he has united the rank and file of the BJP. The rank and file of the BJP was divided, the leaders are still divided, the rank and file was equally divided. But he has been able to unite the rank and file. Perhaps he has gained some traction among urban youths but I think it would be a gross exaggeration to say that people are not worried about his positions, his policies, his past, his track record. It will be a gross exaggeration to say that he is sweeping the countryside. It’s a gross exaggeration to say that he will win in every state. All this is largely media created.
But doesn’t it worry you that opinion polls show that business leaders would prefer a Prime Minister Modi, that somehow Congress can’t convince the business community that Congress is the answer when Narendra Modi is there?
In 2004, nobody gave us a chance. They said Mr Vajpayee will roar back to power. I don’t think Narendra Modi is bigger than Vajpayee, either in terms of image or appeal or acceptability … I think don’t write us off so early. And we are not facing a Vajpayee today. We are facing a Mr Narendra Modi who’s got a very, very chequered track record. Gujarat, in terms of the Raghuram Rajan committee index of development, ranks only 12 in this country.
But you’re facing a much tougher fight than in 2009 given the economic slowdown, the series of corruption problems, the third term and you have a strong candidate, perhaps not Vajpayee …
I don’t think Narendra Modi is a stronger candidate than either Vajpayee or Advani.