There are two ways of looking at Rahul Gandhi.
The first that he wants to become prime minister and is looking out for an opportunity to do this.
His chamchas in the Congress, Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia is one, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Reddy is another, have assumed this is what he has entered politics for.
They believe they are speaking for him when they say he should take over as prime minister from Manmohan Singh and energise the party's workers and voters. Perhaps they are right, and it is true that the two most powerful Congress leaders, the Gandhis, staying out of the Cabinet takes away from it a certain legitimacy. His becoming prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections will also bring clarity to the election.
The second way of looking at Rahul Gandhi is to believe him. That he means it when he says he has no interest in holding office. That he isn't looking to be, and perhaps isn't even qualified to be, prime minister of India.
His mother had pressure on her not to be sworn in prime minister (Sushma Swaraj threatening to tonsure her head - an unpleasant thought) when the Congress defeated the BJP in 2004.
So whether Sonia Gandhi voluntarily declined the office she was constitutionally entitled to claiming or whether she folded to the BJP's xenophobia we will never know.
But in Rahul's case, this has never been an issue. In fact people expect him to sooner or later take his mother's job if not Singh's. He has no reason to keep saying he doesn't want to be minister or prime minister, other than that he doesn't.
But if this is the case why is he in politics at all? He says he wants to strengthen the party. And that, successfully or, according to most people, unsuccessfully, is what he has gone about doing.
I accept the second view. That he doesn't want to become a minister in this cabinet because that's not his focus at the moment.
He is doing what Jawaharlal Nehru was doing with Gandhi before 1930, the discovery of India. That is to say, understanding the country and the citizen, not necessarily the government and the voter. From what I have read of him, Rahul is observant and intelligent. Certainly his Master at Trinity College, Amartya Sen, tells us he thought so. When Rahul speaks, he usually presents an Indian reality which has come from an uncommon understanding.
This realism is why he is thought to be boring and even unintelligent in a nation that is used to rhetoric and declamation.
Though he is good looking, he doesn't deploy his charisma. By this I mean he doesn't pose and make heroic statements like Narendra Modi does. If he did, we would think him charismatic. He chooses not to.
Another reason he prefers party to government is that the Congress is of course Rahul Gandhi's inheritance. He can no more disown it than the Ambani brothers can Reliance. The Gandhis own the Congress in a nation that has always voted for dynasties in politics and Bollywood.
The party is inseparable from his father, his mother, grandmother, great grandfather and great great grandfather. It should not be very difficult for us to believe that he is more interested in nurturing it rather than running a ministry or the Cabinet.
The other thing, and this is anecdotal, is that he genuinely appears to like doing what he does, which is meeting people and trying to understand how India works.
A school group that met him at very short notice recently got from Rahul a long lesson in the history of Delhi. The teacher said he was warm, not patronising and interested in engaging with the children.
He was in fact reluctant to leave them and get back into his routine of meeting ministers for scheduled appointments, and his assistant kept pressing him to end this session with the kids.
Perhaps this will change after a few years, and he will decide to take power.
But he will not be the Congress candidate for prime minister in 2014.
First Published On : Feb 24, 2013 09:16 IST