The Congress said on Tuesday the power-sharing arrangement between party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a model that could continue, the strongest sign yet that Rahul Gandhi's candidature for the premiership is not a foregone conclusion.
"The relationship between the Congress president and PM today is unique and something never seen before and perhaps this should be the ideal model for future also," Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters.
Rahul, 42, was pitchforked into the limelight in January when he was named party vice-president and deputy to Sonia, and jubilant Congressmen were quick to anoint him as a prime minister-in-waiting.
But the Gandhi scion often appears to be a reluctant politician despite coming from a family that has given the nation three prime ministers, and created a flutter when he was heard telling partymen in Parliament that becoming PM was not a priority.
And the octogenarian PM, for his part, last week parried a question on whether he'd be available for a third term, saying: "We will cross the bridge when we reach it."Another Congress general secretary, Digvijaya Singh, is understood to have drawn the ire of Sonia and Rahul after he said on TV the experiment of "two power centres" in UPA had not worked well and suggested Rahul should not nominate a PM in the event of the Congress forming a government in 2014.
The Gandhis are also thought to be unhappy at the clamour for naming Rahul as PM candidate, which intensified after his remarks on getting the nation's top job not being his priority.
Dwivedi said Rahul has made it clear on several occasions that his focus is on building the party organisation.
"Rahul Gandhi has said, and as I and the party understand it, he has made it clear that now there is no question of the prime minister's post."
He also said the party will take a call later on the leadership issue after the next Lok Sabha elections.
"Today, Manmohan Singh is the prime minister and everybody accepts him," Dwivedi said.
Sonia turned down the chance to become PM after the UPA came to power in 2004.
The gesture was then widely praised as one of renunciation, but has also been criticised by the Opposition as creating a power behind the throne or a position that enjoys clout without responsibility.