Now with the presidential election a thing of the past, the Congress has finally decided to gear up for 'Mission 2014' with Rahul Gandhi announcing that he would play a more proactive role in the party and government.
Rahul is projected as the young face of the Congress and one who will, in time, take over the reins of the party from Sonia Gandhi. Dubbed as the Prime Minister-in-waiting by the media, Rahul is expected to eventually become the Prime Minister if Congress and its allies retain power in 2014 national elections.
Rahul, in his short political career of six years, has mostly worked at the grassroot level and it was just a matter of time before he was asked to join the mainstream. But the sudden desperation on behalf of the Congress to push Rahul up the ladder points to one important fact: the party has been hit by a serious leadership crisis.
The Congress, which had won the 2004 elections and wrested power back from the BJP, was a resurgent force led by the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh combine. But eight years since that victory (and another in 2009), the party is not the same force any more. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh facing criticism both from domestic and international fronts and the other veteran, Pranab Mukherjee, making his way towards Rashtrapati Bhawan, the only option left for Sonia and perhaps the final hope for the 2014 polls, is her own son Rahul.
In recent times, Rahul was given an important role in making key party decisions when Sonia was away for medical treatment but he did not latch on to the opportunity to take control.
The Congress, however, feels that in its bad times he could still offer the ray of hope.
But everything said and done, the million dollar question is whether Rahul will be able to live up to the expectations of his party and the people of this country.
We have seen Rahul working hard during some of the state elections, particularly the UP Assembly elections where he was able to improve the situation of the Congress to some extent although the final results did not go his way. But if Rahul has to present himself as a serious contender for the prime ministerial position in front of the people of this country, he has to look beyond UP. The next Assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka, slated next year, will be acid tests for the yuvraj of the Congress Party.
But the biggest concern: Is lack of institutionalised leadership in the party forcing Rahul to enter the 'mainstream' reluctantly? Are the party supporters putting the leadership tag on him for there is no one else?
If Rahul is confident that he has plans to lead the country, then there are no worries. However, if this is just a desperate attempt made by Congress, then the future holds bleak for the party. This is also a very important phase in the political career of Rahul which, if not planned properly, can backfire.