In an interview on the eve of his visit to the US, FM P. Chidambaram hints PM Manmohan Singh's time at the helm as Prime Minister of India has passed.
Chidambaram said the economic downturn was no reason to think that his Congress party, which has been weakened by years of fractious coalition rule and a string of corruption scandals, would be ousted in a national election that must be held by May.
"Don't write us off so easily," he said, adding that the next leader of the Congress party would be Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of its 66 years since Independence.
"I am glad you acknowledge prime minister Rahul Gandhi, but that is a question you should put to him," Chidambaram said, when asked if he would serve again in a government led by the party's heir apparent if Congress wins a third straight term in office. "The time has come for the torch to be passed on to a new and younger generation."
Chidambaram dismissed the dazzling emergence of opposition figurehead and candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi on the national political stage as "largely media created".
He conceded that the Hindu nationalist leader had united the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party and "gained some traction among urban youths", but said his party's challenger was someone with a "very, very chequered track record".
Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat when deadly communal riots raged there in 2002. He has always vehemently denied charges that he turned a blind eye to the violence, and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.
The Indian government will have to rein in spending and cut subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit target, the country's finance minister said on Monday, underlining that an austerity drive will not be blown off course by an election due next year.
P. Chidambaram told Reuters ahead of a trip to the United States - where one stop will be to woo investors on the West Coast - that he will not allow the deficit to cross a "red line" set at 4.8 percent of gross domestic product this fiscal year.
"We've issued austerity instructions, it will bring us some savings," he said.
The finance minister's vow to contain the deficit means there will be little room ahead of a tough election to spur growth, which has slumped from a