As the hype continues to build around a potential face-off with Narendra Modi over the country’s most important job in 2014, Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday spelt out clearly that becoming PM was not his priority.
“Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question,” he told fellow members of Parliament after the day’s session was adjourned, adding that his ideal was Mahatma Gandhi and he believed in “Nishkam Karma” — work without expectations of reward — a principle enunciated in the Bhagavad Gita.
Gandhi, whose anointment as Congress vice-president in January sparked talk of his becoming PM candidate, told the MPs in an informal chat that he believed in long-term politics, adding that his priority was to build up the organisation while broadbasing the power structure and decision-making.
A few journalists were among those who rushed in to hear the conversation soon after the Lok Sabha was adjourned.
Though Gandhi, 42, has consistently maintained he is not in a rush to become PM, this is perhaps the first time he has articulated his views in such a pronounced manner in the presence of the media.
Last month, in a closed-door meeting with state leaders, Gandhi had rebuked Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna for giving the "unsolicited" advice that he soon be declared the prime ministerial candidate.
"I don't want to hear such a thing again," he had said.
A potential Gandhi-Modi tussle has captured the imagination of the media in particular.
The other player in this battle, Modi, got a rapturous response from party workers at a BJP conclave in Delhi last week but indications emerged quickly that some senior leaders would try and contain his ambitions.
Gandhi has tried to maintain a relatively low profile, and on Tuesday also appeared to take a swipe at dynastic politics, something of which the Congress is often accused.
Saying that he had no immediate marriage plans, he added: "If I get married and have children, I will be status quoist and will like my children to take my place."
Gandhi represents the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family in politics: his father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all PMs.
And in another signal that he wanted to break from the past, he said he was against the "high command culture" and would strive to empower more and more people rather than a handful who call the shots.
"The high command culture started in the '70s when my grandmother was under severe assault... I knew her and had I been in her place, I would have done the same," he said.
Gandhi dropped hints that he would go for drastic overhaul of the organisation.
"Today I see how MPs feel without power and it is the same story in all parties, be it Congress or BJP. I want to empower the 720-odd MPs in Parliament and 5,000-odd legislators in various states. I want to give voice to the middle tier... empower the middle-level leaders," he said.