NEW DELHI - Indian politician Rahul Gandhi returned on Thursday from a mysterious eight-week break in an undisclosed location that had prompted ridicule and questions from colleagues about his fitness to lead the opposition Congress party back to power.
Gandhi's car rolled into the driveway of his colonial-era bungalow on a leafy New Delhi lane. The shy parliamentarian was barely visible behind darkened windows, but a senior party leader waiting at the house confirmed he had arrived.
A few supporters let off firecrackers outside the Congress head office, but the celebrations were overshadowed by an outpouring of biting satire on Twitter, where #RahulReturns was India's top trend.
Gandhi's father and grandmother both served as prime ministers and were both assassinated, and Congress cites safety as a reason for being coy about his movements.
However, during the trip that began in February, he traveled without his usual elite security detail, a home ministry official said.
Several Indian media outlets reported he spent his leave in southeast Asia.
Heir to the most famous name in Indian politics, the 44-year-old has long been expected to take control of the party when his mother retires as its president, but the lengthy, unexplained break tested the patience of loyal aides.
Gandhi's absence during a key parliament session, when Congress was attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi over land policy, annoyed aides already angry after he led Congress to its worst ever defeat in last year's general election.
“It is now for his mother to decide if the son should lead the party, but it is clear that many Congress members don't want him to be the leader,” said the waiting Congress leader, who declined to be identified because the matter is sensitive.
So far the grumbling has not developed into open revolt against the family, with many leaders voicing loyalty to matriarch Sonia Gandhi, and others urging a more prominent role for Rahul's more charismatic sister, Priyanka.
Gandhi is the great-grandson of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. His father, former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was killed in a suicide attack in 1991. His grandmother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, was shot dead by bodyguards in 1984.
Gandhi and his family are protected by a security cover of the elite Special Protection Group (SPG), but in February he made a request to travel without the guards which was approved by the government, a senior home ministry official told Reuters.