India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an octogenarian economist, announced he would be stepping down from his position after elections next year. It was the first news conference the notoriously aloof and mellow Singh has given in three years, and he used it to fire biting comments at an opposition rival widely seen as the man who will replace him.As minister of finance, Singh was a powerful architect behind the liberalization of India’s economy in the early 1990s. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress party, elevated Singh to the premiership, and he remained there after the party won elections with a strong victory in 2009. Since then, however, Singh’s reform agenda has stalled as inflation spiraled, growth slowed, and foreign investment dissipated. He has struggled to maintain control of a government buffeted by serious, repeated corruption investigations. The country has turned against him (polls put the opposition party in the lead ahead of next year’s elections), and his party seems listless.But Singh was adamant that the opposition candidate for his job, Narendra Modi, should not succeed him. “I sincerely believe it would be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as the prime minister,” he said at the press conference. Singh’s biting remarks were uncharacteristic for the quiet, Punjab-born, Oxbridge-educated economist. He took aim at Modi’s actions (or lack thereof) during riots in 2002 that left hundreds dead in Gujarat: “If by strong prime minister you mean you preside over the mass massacre of innocent citizens in the streets of Ahmedabad – if that is the measure of strength – I do not believe that sort of strength this country needs.”Singh did not say who would replace him as Congress’s candidate for prime minister. The man many hope will be his successor is Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old son of Sonia and vice president of the Congress party. Singh said simply that Rahul has “outstanding credentials.”Rahul, or whoever assumes the departing Singh’s position, has much work to do. Congress was trounced by the BJP, Modi’s party, in recent state elections, and has been losing ground to an upstart anti-corruption crusader. Congress is viewed by many Indian voters as outdated, corrupt and inefficient. To win back lost popularity, Congress must convince voters, especially urban residents and members of the rising middle class, that it can dispel its crooked, sluggish image and deliver growth and prosperity.