The Congress move to draft Rahul Gandhi into government (if he agrees) suggests it is going with a defensive strategy to the 2014 elections. If the party wins the polls with or without allies, the ministerial experience of Rahul Gandhi would "qualify" him for the PM's job. If the Congress loses the elections, which is more likely to be the case, Rahul Gandhi will not be blamed and will, so the strategizing goes, live to fight another day.

As a politician, Rahul Gandhi has failed. He has spectacularly failed to revive the Congress, which has been roundly thrashed in every election it has recently fought. The party's bad time under Rahul Gandhi began with the Bihar assembly elections, where all the demonizing of Nitish Kumar as communal for his alliance with the BJP did not move his Muslim voters away.

Similarly, the Congress has come a cropper in Uttar Pradesh, where the adversarial Mulayam Singh Yadav dynasty has seized government (the Samajwadi Party-Congress bonhomie is strictly transactional), and it has flunked out in Andhra Pradesh, the swing state which brought the Nehru-Gandhis to power in the Centre in 2004.

Sonia Gandhi's illness and her desire to see her only son (Indira Gandhi had two, remember) win political spurs led her to indulge him in his whimsies. Herself having no Indian political background, she was forced to depend on non-family advisors for her son. In the beginning, Rahul Gandhi turned to Arjun Singh, but that relationship was cut short, so it is said, by Digvijay Singh, who took over the political tutoring of the Nehru-Gandhi scion. Plus, Rahul Gandhi has aides his age or younger drawn from Congress political families or who are progenies of friends of his parents. But it hasn't worked.

In an earlier piece (Commentary, "Lose-lose,"13 July 2012), this writer had spoken of a clash between the old guard and the young generation in the Congress imperiling the party's revival. This remains true. Sonia Gandhi, as is clear from her actions, is no longer willing to continue with Rahul Gandhi's political experimentations, especially as they have electorally destroyed the party. Whilst Rahul Gandhi is not all to blame for this (Sonia and Manmohan Singh's terrible prime-ministership have contributed to his woes), she remains the boss of the Congress, and the boss can do no wrong.

So reviving the Congress and preparing the party for the 2014 polls are tasks that no longer devolve on Rahul Gandhi but have been appropriated by Sonia herself, who is reportedly putting blood and soul into the general election campaign. The old guard in the party which scorned Rahul Gandhi's ideas and was ecstatic at his failure obviously cherishes the thought of Sonia Gandhi in command. But at the same time, Sonia is a mother, "and as a mother", said a Congress insider, "she cannot see her son go to seed. He has to be gainfully employed, and he has to have a nicely-scented job".

So ministership it may be for Rahul Gandhi. The details can always be worked out, but he will likely hold a portfolio which serves as an interface between politics and government, something like rural development. But being a minister looks good on the outside. As a minister, you have to be all there, particularly if you have to leave a mark, and if you have a trailblazer like Jairam Ramesh (this writer's only grouse is that he canned the great river-linking project because it was an NDA scheme) as your predecessor, you can forget about making history with your portfolio.

The trouble is Rahul Gandhi is not cut out to be a minister (distrust the editors who gush about his greatness on news TV), and he will have to have solid and extensive support and backup staff to last till 2014 without making a blunder or landing his surname in a soup. Sonia Gandhi is unlikely to trust the routine bureaucracy with Rahul Gandhi and somebody as trusted and powerful as Pulak Chatterjee would have to be deployed to keep the show going. Even Digvijay Singh could be pulled in as an advisor of sorts given his experience as Madhya Pradesh chief minister.

But the bottom line is that this will be a holding operation. The central idea is to remove Rahul Gandhi from the line of fire if the party flops in 2014, and to keep him ready, with a ministership in his curriculum vitae, should kismet make him PM. There are other post-2014 compulsions/ complications to train up Rahul for. The dynasty has massive interests to be protected if the BJP comes to power. With the existing central BJP leadership, things are hunky-dory. But if Narendra Modi becomes prime minister, it will be the worst nightmare-comes-true for the Nehru-Gandhis, and the Gujarat chief minister is a deeply hurt man.

In that sense, bringing Rahul Gandhi into government and hoping he learns the ropes and gets some smarts reflects the anxieties of a mother past her best. We have all seen that happen in our families. Now it is being played on the national screen, primetime.