Two statements by Rahul Gandhi in West Bengal – that one doesn't necessarily need to become PM and that Congress would have alliances only if they are dignified – provide some insight into his thinking.
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Gandhi took a firm line: that the party must go it alone. In 2007, Gandhi blamed the party's 1996 alliance with the BSP for its sharp decline. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Congress contested alone in UP and Bihar and did much better, validating this line.
However, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala, three states that will go to elections in 2011, present a different scenario.
In Kerala, Congress is leading an alliance while in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the party has been part of winning alliances in 2009. Some Congress leaders in these states are pressing for breaking ties with the DMK and TMC, respectively, but too much is at stake for the party to allow such experiments.
His views on becoming PM are also linked to his political strategy. He, like his mother, seems to be developing a disinterest in administrative power. "That makes his politics fundamentally different from the usual concern about the next elections. His philosophy is: 'forget the elections, build the party'," a Gandhi confidant says.
That's what makes him such a difficult politician to analyse.