'If he plays his cards well; develops a thicker political hide; complements his populist 'Left of centre' image with a sounder understanding of economics, foreign policy and national security; and plays the waiting game with fortitude, who knows, India may well have a rejuvenated Congress party with a reformer and a statesman as its leader in the years ahead,' says An Observer of Today's India.
Is Rahul Gandhi ready for the top job in the country? That was the question millions of viewers were asking while watching Arnab Goswami grill Rahul Gandhi on Times Now last night.
Instead what they got to see was a young man, who has supposedly gathered enough experience in India's political arena, which resembles a crude wrestling pit today, rather than a mature democracy. Rahul seemed frustrated with a system, which according to him needed 'deep rooted systemic and not superficial changes.'
The cynics and critics would say that Rahul Gandhi skirted tough questions posed to him by an unrelenting Goswami, particularly on issues related to shielding senior Congressmen like Ashok Chavan and Virbhadra Singh, who are charged with misuse of official position and corruption.
They would also say that his attempts to garner sympathy by attempting to ride piggyback on family tragedy too would not have gone down well with many, nor was his defence of the Congress's complicity during the 1984 riots very convincing.
Comfort with power and authority, and the ability to use it for national good is the hallmark of a good statesman.
By comparing himself with Arjun, the reluctant warrior from the Mahabharata, Rahul Gandhi is attempting to position himself as an idealistic and well meaning reformer, rather than a decisive and action-oriented leader.
By any yardstick, the cesspool of Indian politics needs not one, but hundreds of such people to cleanse the system.
But the question millions would have been asking is this -- along with the well meaning systemic changes, empowerment of women and transparency -- does Mr Rahul Gandhi understand the need of the hour for India?
Does he understand economics?
Does he understand concepts of national security and national interest in a troubled neighbourhood?
This is where Arnab Goswami too fell a little short by continuing to hammer on what Rahul Gandhi called 'superficial issues' of personality-oriented topics.
Rahul Gandhi missed an electoral opportunity by not seizing the bull by its horns and exorcising the ghosts of the 1984 riots. He could have easily condemned the riots and then stated, as he categorically did that 'The law must take its course.'
Had he charted a new path on 1984, he could have then used the moral high ground to push his argument that on a similar count Mr Modi was also morally responsible for what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
By not doing so, Rahul revealed a defensive and diffident mindset, so different from some of the aggressive posturing we have seen from him on issues that are close to his heart.
It was also surprising to hear from him that the Gujarat riots in 2002 were precipitated by 'people not having a voice', and not as a reaction to the Godhra massacre. The art of political manoeuvre, it seems, is rather alien to him, or so he would rather portray.
His justification of a political alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal as being with 'a party and not an individual' despite charges of corruption against its supremo, Lalu Prasad Yadav, is baffling to say the least. Any informed political observer knows that Lalu Prasad is the RJD!
It is surprising why he did not mention that the RJD was a secular party and that is why the Congress was considering aligning with it. That would have gone down better with those who understand politics.
Rahul Gandhi's passion for deep, participative and transparent electoral reform is well known; his sincerity for furthering women's empowerment in all fields is unquestionable, and so is his understanding of the ethos of the Congress party.
He clearly understands dynastic politics; he is clearly averse to it, but has no concrete or revolutionary solution how to end it. Therein is the contradiction that Rahul is! But is all this enough for him to make a late charge in 2014?
When queried about the impact of price rise and its importance as an election issue, he missed an opportunity to reveal his understanding of economic issues by dwelling on some of the corrective fiscal measures taken by the government to check price rise, control inflation and improve the investment climate in the country.
To be fair to him though, he was forceful and passionate about the need to make India a manufacturing hub and offer the world an alternative to the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut.
Unfortunately, this came late in the interview and was drowned by the interviewer's relentless charge to set up a Modi versus Rahul debate on critical issues facing the nation.
That he believes in clean politics and did not resort to derogatory remarks whenever faced with a Modi question, is a reflection of Rahul Gandhi's endeavour to project himself as a 'clean democrat' and not as an 'authoritarian', as he obliquely alluded to his principal political adversary prior to the forthcoming electoral showdown.
Rahul Gandhi's assertion that the Congress would emerge victorious was unconvincing, but he had no other choice and could not back it up with any statistics, predictions or trends.
It is difficult to write off Mr Rahul Gandhi as a reforming force in Indian politics, but for now he will have to play catch up to Mr Modi's juggernaut.
If he plays his cards well; develops a thicker political hide; complements his populist 'Left of centre' image with a sounder understanding of economics, foreign policy and national security; and plays the waiting game with fortitude, who knows, India may well have a rejuvenated Congress party with a reformer and a statesman as its leader in the years ahead.
Image: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi at a students rally organised by the National Students Union of India in Chandigarh. Photograph: Ajay Verma/ Reuters