It would take more than a few speeches and sound-bites from Rahul Gandhi for a confounded political class, especially his party’s disbelieving cadre, to concede that his post-sabbatical avatar as a full-time politician is for real.

More than the ruling BJP, which does not seem unduly worried about Rahul’s sudden metamorphosis, he faces a more uphill task in convincing his own partymen of his eligibility.

Come October, which is when the All India Congress Committee (AICC)’s plenary is roughly scheduled, the dissenting factions may throw up a challenger against Rahul’s candidature as Congress president.

In all likelihood, this challenger may be former East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit, who has been publicly attacking the Gandhi scion of late.

Dikshit would have the support of the Congress old guard — Ahmed Patel, Janardhan Dwivedi and state satraps such as former chief ministers Amarinder Singh and Shiela Dikshit. “There are precedents to the official candidates being challenged — Sitaram Kesri was challenged by Rajesh Pilot; even Sonia Gandhi’s candidature was challenged by Jitendra Prasada,” said a Congress source.

The ongoing public posturing is, therefore, to put up a credible performance in the run-up to his election.

Full of surprises

Accordingly, Rahul was full of surprises this week. The latest was a hike to the far-flung Kedarnath shrine to “pay respects” to the people who had died in the June 2013 cloudburst and floods.

He trekked the last 16 km, smeared his forehead with sandalwood paste and did the temple parikrama with an ageing priest. He then smiled and apologised to the reporters who had trekked there, offering an explanation for this sudden pilgrimage.

“I wanted to pay my respects to the people who lost their lives here,” he told reporters in Kedarnath.

Mein Bhagwan se kabhi kuchch nahin maangta. Is bar bhi kuchch nahin maanga. Par wahan par ek urja milee (I never ask God for anything. This time too I asked for nothing. But I experienced a strong energy there),” said the denim-clad neta .

The stupefied Congressmen who followed him there happily dished out anecdotes about Rahul’s interactions with the porters and labourers en route to the shrine, about how he stood in a queue for food and junked the VIP bandobast to break bread with the commoners.

Flawless proletarianisation

Indeed, the proletarianisation was so flawless that most hard-nosed Congress leaders were scurrying to grasp the cause and effect of this epochal event.

“Why do you think he has buzzed off to Kedarnath?” a former Cabinet Minister in the UPA government asked. He then offered his own interpretation. “This is like Rajiv Gandhi trying to appease the Hindu and the Muslim communalists at the same time. It won’t work,” he declared.

What is clear beyond the rallying of the younger lot — including Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Deepender Hooda and Rajiv Satav — around Rahul is that there is an equally large number of Congressmen who are still not ready to accept his leadership.

And even if Rahul is consistent with his ongoing performance, the suspicious older lot is still unlikely to come to terms with the idea of him being in charge.

For the party vice-president, challenges are imminent in the coming months.

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