For a political party bruised by corruption scandals, charges of poor governance and electoral defeats, Rahul Gandhi will have to be a miracle man to help restore the health of the Congress, India's oldest political party.
Three years ago, the 42-year-old did have stature, largely due to the overall performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections and its remarkable run in Uttar Pradesh.
Instead of capitalizing on the goodwill he had earned then, the young Gandhi squandered it away, by repeatedly turning down suggestions that he play a bigger role in the Manmohan Singh government. Had he joined the government at the start of UPA-II, Gandhi would have had three years of administrative experience by now, a vital necessity for one seen as a possible prime minister of the world's second most populous country.
Naturally, the announcement now by Gandhi that he was ready to play a proactive role in both the government and the Congress hasn't ignited the sparks it was expected to.
At one level, what Gandhi has said is not surprising. It was always clear that he was the chosen successor in a party controlled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty since the time India gained independence. That he is already the de facto number two in the Congress is also not in doubt. Whatever his designation, it is Rahul Gandhi who counts the most in the Congress after his mother and president Sonia Gandhi. His word is supreme.
So if he is named the "working president", it will be a mere nomenclature. That is what he is now for all practical purposes and intent.
Despite being a member of parliament since 2004 and one of the general secretaries of the Congress since 2008, Rahul Gandhi's overall performance in the Lok Sabha and elsewhere has been below par.
After some initial hopes, he also failed to inject life into the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI).
No doubt, he overcame initial hiccups as he entered politics when he was frequently compared with his charismatic younger sister Priyanka. As he began to play a larger role, he did gain public support. Many thought he had charm.
He won admirers by refusing to hanker after a government post - when any could have been his for the asking - for the five years of UPA-I.
When the 2009 Lok Sabha battle was waged, he led from the front in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress had been virtually written off, and pulled off a coup. The Congress finished second after the Samajwadi Party.
By then whispers of Rahul-should-be-PM had started in the Congress. This was when Gandhi should have taken the plunge.
Instead, he chose to be outside the government.
Today, if Gandhi were to become the Congress president or assume a major role in the government, only then would it be deemed significant.
But it would not necessarily fetch more votes for the Congress. Indeed, it could even prove to be a liability for the younger Gandhi as he would pay the price for the government's present battered image.
In politics, innate strength and abilities do mater; dynasty can help, only up to a point.
Whatever Rahul Gandhi does now, he will have to deliver - and fast. The next Lok Sabha election won't be easy for the Congress. And it is less than two years away.
By M.R. Narayan Swamy