By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi, Sep 13 (IANS) Will the suspense over Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's next step finally end this month?
It could well be with the Congress agog with talk that Gandhi, 42, may assume a more proactive role - whether within or as minister - and provide the much-needed boost to the party, rendered on the backfoot over the coal mines allocation controversy.
And the time is now, say party insiders, with elections to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh expected to be held later this year.
Both the states are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress is therefore desperately hoping for an electoral edge even though insiders acknowledge that Rahul Gandhi is unlikely to hold the magic wand.
He wasn't successful in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. The odds are anyway enormous with corruption scandals and the economy in doldrums. But the prince-in-waiting is young, has a clean image of an idealist and, of course, the famed Gandhi charisma, say Congress workers.
They are willing to stake their all on Rahul Gandhi, despite stringent attacks by the opposition and scepticism by political observers on whether he was ready to take the initiative. On Wednesday, even the Samajwadi Party that gives outside support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), said it has no faith in Rahul Gandhi.
"Whoever understands Indian politics will say that Rahul Gandhi does not seem to have the qualities to lead the country in view of the challenges it s facing," party leader Mohan Singh said in Kolkata.
Nonetheless, Congress leaders say Gandhi's next move, talked about for over a year and a half, is expected to boost the morale of the party, still smarting from the opposition charges of corruption, electoral debacles in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in March, and faulty allocation of coal blocks.
"Whatever changes have to be done should be done in time, so that the new leaders get adequate time to prepare the party for the electoral challenges ahead," said a cabinet minister who did not wish to be named.
"We want a bigger role for Rahul Gandhi," the minister told IANS.
Rahul Gandhi's elevation within the party or his taking on a ministerial berth is expected to prepare the party ahead of the big political battle of the 2014 general election and the slew of state polls before that.
It is, however, clear that United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi would lead the country's oldest party in the next Lok Sabha polls.
Rahul Gandhi, who entered electoral politics in 2004 and has taken charge of the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, had indicated in July that he was ready for a more "proactive" role.
But the timing, he said, would be decided by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
While the prime minister has time and again expressed hope that Rahul Gandhi will assume a greater role in the government, Sonia Gandhi had said that her son alone will take the final call.
Top leaders said Rahul Gandhi's elevation in the party hierarchy was almost certain, but a section of the Congress wants him to play a role in Manmohan Singh's cabinet as well.
Young parliamentarians hinted he may take up a ministry like rural development, human resource development or health -- portfolios which identify with his pro-poor and development-oriented ideas.
"This would give him government experience... but he (Rahul) has to take the final call," said a young MP who has been associated with Rahul Gandhi in democratising the Youth Congress.
However, some leaders felt the Nehru-Gandhi family scion should remain focussed on his long-term goal of reviving the grand old party across the country.
This suits his style of working too, said party sources.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, who worked closely with Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh, has said the young leader should focus on the party.
According to Zoya Hasan, who teaches political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, there was pressure on Rahul Gandhi and he must assume the leadership role.
"He should come to the forefront. He has to articulate his position," Hasan told IANS.
Till then, for the Congress, the suspense is on.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)