The modesty was genuine. When Rahul Gandhi, the 'crown prince' of Indian politics, told a rapturous Congress party meeting in Hyderabad that he was not ready to take on a leadership role because he still had far too much to learn, he meant what he said. But, with the self-deprecation, there was calculation. If Mr Gandhi, 36, postponed his 'coronation' by ignoring his party's pleas, it was because party managers fear that, if launched now, he could peak too early. The next general election is still more than three years away. Congress activists cannot wait for him to shed his low profile. As the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and a fifth generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, they look on him as a saviour. He is seen as the person who can lead the party to thumping parliamentary majorities. A majority is something the party used to take for granted for much of its 120-year history, but has eluded it now for more than a decade. It is the timing of Mr Gandhi's arrival that is crucial. 'If Rahul becomes high-profile now, it will be hard maintaining the momentum till the next election. The Congress is afraid of using him too soon,' said political analyst Neerja Chowdhury. The refusal to take up a party post is politically astute. Ever since he was elected MP for Amethi two years ago, Mr Gandhi has confined himself to his constituency and has kept such a low profile that he has barely been seen or heard. His polite refusal this week to bow to his party's demand projected him as a young man reluctant to assume power. This kind of 'renunciation' goes down well in India. After her husband Rajiv was murdered by a suicide bomber in 1991, Sonia Gandhi resisted the clamour to succeed him. Her refusal of political power that was being thrust at her raised her profile. Even when she did take the plunge and entered active politics in 1998, she appeared reluctant, uneasy and unwilling. When, in 2004, she declined the post of prime minister - giving it instead to Manmohan Singh - Indians were dumbstruck at such self-effacement. 'People appreciate Sonia's refusing to impose her son on the party or on the government so soon after he became an MP. If Sonia shows too much haste in promoting Rahul, it will look too much like dynasty politics,' said analyst Inder Malhotra. Mr Gandhi struck a note similar to his mother's during his Hyderabad speech before 10,000 Congress delegates. Referring to himself, he told them there was no 'fast track'. Leaders had to be built 'brick by brick, day by day'. He still had to learn about his country. 'My place right now is with the people, to understand their problems,' he said. Rahul-watchers say this is a sensible move. He does have a lot to learn. He comes from a family of prime ministers - father, grandmother, and great grandfather - but he is a political innocent, whose grooming requires more time. He still knows nothing of the nitty-gritty of politics. Moreover, his knowledge of India and the issues is insufficient owing to a sequestered childhood. Mr Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka, were pulled out of school the same day that his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in 1984. Tutors taught them at home. Later, he lived outside India for long periods. He studied development economics in Britain and worked as a financial consultant in London. So he needs time to understand the country and the issues. This explains why the future prime minister of India has scotched speculation in recent months that he would be given a senior job in the party. Instead, he has decided to keep working at the grass roots to help revive the party. The party's glory days are over. All over India, its political base has been washed away. In the family seat of Allahabad last year, the Congress candidate lost his deposit in a by-election. The party needs stronger organisation, enthusiastic workers and new ideas. Recognising this, both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi stressed the need for hard work. Mr Gandhi urged young members not to run after power and positions, but to focus on ordinary people and their problems. 'Let us move into the battlefield and go into the towns and villages, universities and schools to rebuild our links with the people,' he said. He is an example of this. He has concentrated exclusively on bread-and-butter issues in Amethi - no big speeches, no campaigning, no big rallies. The only problem is that while Congress activists worship the dynasty slavishly, they often ignore its words. Instead of acting on the Gandhis' belief that grass-roots work is necessary to win voters back, they will probably keep looking to Mr Gandhi as a quick-fix saviour to win them elections. In truth, both mother and son have failed to revive the party. One reason she gave for rejecting the prime minister's job was that she wanted to devote herself to the party, but she seems to have lost sight of this objective. Mr Gandhi, too, was expected to revive the party in the Hindi heartland in the north, but has scarcely ventured outside Amethi. Critics of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty would say Mr Gandhi is wise to give himself more time, because nothing he has said or done in the past two years has revealed any sign of leadership abilities. The great advantage of being Rahul Gandhi is that he can take it easy. His mother is keeping the party leader's post warm for him. Dr Singh is keeping the prime minister's seat warm for him because, by rights, it 'belonged' to Sonia Gandhi anyway. Both jobs are his for the taking. His party may be in a hurry, but it will have to wait.