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Published: Sunday January 19, 2014 MYT 7:25:00 PM
Updated: Sunday January 19, 2014 MYT 7:30:35 PM

India's Modi ridicules rival Rahul Gandhi over election candidacy

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the party's national council meeting in New Delhi on January 19, 2014

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the party's national council meeting in New Delhi on January 19, 2014

New Delhi (AFP) - India's opposition prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi mocked the ruling Congress party on Sunday for refusing to name Rahul Gandhi as its choice for premier in upcoming elections.

In a speech in the capital, Modi said Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not want to sacrifice her son Rahul politically at the general elections in coming months, which the party is widely tipped to lose.

"I see a very human, sensitive reason for their (Congress's) decision. Would any mother sacrifice her son?" Modi told hundreds of officials from his opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The mother thought 'no, save my son'," Modi said to laughter and applause from BJP leaders, who have been meeting in New Delhi to prepare for the general elections.

Sonia Gandhi on Friday batted away pleas from her Congress supporters during a mass meeting to name Rahul as their candidate for the polls due by May.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh retiring after two terms, the party had been expected to nominate Rahul, a Congress MP who has generally shunned the limelight, as its choice for premier at the meet.

Pollsters predict a defeat for Congress, with voters troubled by high inflation, slowing economic growth which has hit the job market and a series of corruption scandals.

On Sunday, Modi sought to contrast his humble beginnings as the son of a tea vendor with Rahul Gandhi whose family has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947.

Modi said 43-year-old bachelor Rahul was too ashamed to go head to head with him at the elections.

"Rahul Gandhi feels shameful in fighting elections against a tea vendor," Modi told the crowd.

The BJP named fiery hardliner Modi as its candidate in September and the party's campaign has been centred around him and his 13 years in charge of the western state of Gujarat.

A survey last week said that only 14 percent of voters believed Rahul Gandhi would make the best prime minister while 58 percent opted for Modi.

But Modi, a pro-business reformer with a reputation for running a relatively clean administration, is also known for his Hindu nationalist leanings and is accused by critics of turning a blind eye to savage anti-Muslim riots in his state in 2002. - AFP

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