After years of being on the periphery of the presidency of India's oldest political party – the Indian National Congress (INC), the heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi has never been as close to the throne as he is now. With the announcement of Congress' presidential elections on Monday, 20 November, Gandhi, 47, is only a step away from adorning the "crown of thorns" as the grand-old party confronts one of the most difficult phases in its history.

Rahul, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather have all been prime ministers of India, is widely expected to be elected unopposed in early December when the party elections occur. This will mark a generational shift in the INC after Rahul's mother, Sonia Gandhi, led the political body for 17 long years.

Ever since he was elected as the party's vice president, it was almost a given that Rahul would be the next president of the political outfit. Although Sonia, 70, still calls the shots, leaving little room for her son to manoeuver politically, the picture might change soon.

Though the young Gandhi scion was painted as a reluctant leader throughout his early political years, he has risen to prominence in recent months. Rahul has turned into a strong opposition voice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, taking up issues with the government's schemes like demonetisation and the implementation of a goods and service tax (GST).

Gandhi's imminent elevation is most likely to come at a time when legislative elections are scheduled to take place in two crucial states – Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Gandhi has been tirelessly campaigning in Gujarat, the home state of Modi, to capitalise on anti-incumbency sentiments. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been ruling the state for 17 years.

"Rahul and many of you colleagues here [Congress leaders present at the party meeting] and in Gujarat are working hard for a positive result in the state. Let us do our best to prove that people are not fooled and that they will make the right decision and defeat the present dispensation there," said Sonia, lambasting the ruling government in Gujarat.

Apart from trying to resurrect the INC's prospects in the ballots, Rahul will also face the challenge of steering the party's influential old guard, and the emerging new faces, in a new direction.

His elevation to the position of party president will also make Rahul the INC's prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 parliamentary elections. The party's spokesman RPN Singh confirmed the same, saying, "There's no doubt about it," before adding, "Sonia Gandhi is our mentor and will be there to guide us through," emphasising the gradual transition of power.

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with her son Rahul at an election rally - File photo SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images