New Delhi: With a string of salvos fired at the Modi government since his return from a sabbatical, a combative Rahul Gandhi is being seen among his party leaders as a force behind "turning the tide" for a Congress that is desperate to regain its relevance vis-a-vis the country's realigned political equations.
While the Gandhi scion's resurgence, say political analysts, is his attempt to "assert" within the party his leadership that faced simmering opposition, it is also a signal that he is willing to take on the mantle.
H.K. Dua, former editor-turned-MP, said the Congress vice president's elevation is not a distant reality and he was convinced he will become the party chief "very soon".
"He is showing a lot of energy in and outside parliament, and his leadership in the party is certain. Irony, controlled aggression and a bit of humour, he is displaying it all. The government is on the defensive on the farmers' issue," Dua told IANS.
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said the return of his leader has infused a new lease of life in the party.
"The party is buoyant and enthusiastic and going forward. Gandhi has turned the tide completely. The Congress is communicative now," Jha told IANS.
Both outside and inside parliament, Gandhi is piloting the party with scathing attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his "suit-boot sarkaar", the gibe by the Congress leader that triggered a "soojh-bhooj ki sarkar" response from Finance Minister Arun Jaitely.
With a kisan-mazdoor rally on April 19, Gandhi sprang into action with his first intervention that focussed on the farming community, seeking to highlight the agrarian crisis and the land acquisition bill that the Congress described as "anti-farmer".
Taking the lead from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, his mother, who toured parts of the agrarian belt hit by the unseasonal rain and hailstorms, Rahul Gandhi visited areas with a high suicide rate in the farming communities of Punjab and Maharashtra to connect with agriculturists reeling under crop failure.
"Rahul Gandhi was the ideological architect of this movement for farmers when he began work in Niamgiri and Bhatta Parsull (against land acquisition in 2011)," former National Student's Union of India president Ragini Nayak told IANS.
Intent to escalate pressure on the government, Gandhi also hit out at the amended real estate bill as "pro-builder" and held talks with home buyers while also raising his voice against "net neutrality" in a bid to tap into the middle class.
Political commentator Aswini K. Ray said his resurgence is "changing" the country's political equation, which is also an indication that the mantle will change soon.
Ray, however, added that "it is more of a signal to his partymen that shows his willingness to advance to the leadership viz-a-viz his earlier reluctance. He is now asserting his leadership more strongly and clearly".
Describing him as the natural choice for party president, senior Congress legislator Rita Bahuguna Joshi said Gandhi is a "widely accepted leader" in the party who "automatically fits into the profile" of its chief.
"There is a huge demand in the party for him to take over. The transition will be very smooth as he already knows the party, its organisation and the people," Joshi told IANS.
What about the questions raised over his leadership, including by his own party leaders?
"The party stands united under his leadership," Jha asserted.
Former Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit, for instance, was one of the senior leaders who publicly demanded that Sonia Gandhi continue as party president.
An informed source told IANS that a section of the senior leadership close to Sonia Gandhi was opposed to a change of guard.
"There was opposition within the party, especially among a section of senior leaders close to Mrs. Gandhi because a lot of them doubted his leadership acumen. But the young blood sided with Rahul Gandhi. It had become increasingly important for Rahul Gandhi to inspire confidence in his leadership," the source said.
The 15-km 'padyatra' (foot march) in Maharshtra's Vidarbha region was widely seen as a move to whip up the spirits of party workers that drooped after successive reverses in general elections as well as the assembly elections.
Gandhi is scheduled to undertake yet another 'padyatra' in Telangana on May 15.
(Trina Joshi can be contacted at email@example.com)