India’s Congress party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, that governs India’s federal government, has decided not to field Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate in the country’s upcoming general elections.

However, Rahul, who is the son of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and the reluctant heir to his family’s political legacy in the world’s largest democracy, will lead the party’s campaign effort, local media reports said Thursday, citing party officials. After months of back and forth and speculation, it was widely expected that Rahul would be picked as the party’s nominee at Thursday’s Congress Working Committee meeting, according to reports, and the decision came as a surprise.

"The Congress party president declared that the next election campaign will be led by Rahul Gandhi," senior party leader Janardan Dwidedi said, according to BBC, adding that while the party members unanimously chose Rahul to be the nominee, “the Congress president intervened.”

“There is no need for naming a prime ministerial candidate,” Dwivedi said, according to Bloomberg, which cited televised comments. “That’s the opinion of Sonia Gandhi.”

The Congress party is heading into what is widely believed to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the country in a long time, as public opinion about the ruling coalition has plummeted in the face of soaring inflation, rampant corruption and a severe slowdown in the economy. Sonia Gandhi has led the Congress party as its president since 1998.

According to the latest polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has extended its lead, the BBC reported. Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP, an upstart outfit led by a former bureaucrat and supported by some of the country’s most high-profile businessmen and technocrats, swept into power in the state of New Delhi recently to emerge as a serious contender for the national elections.

According to Mint, a local business daily, the Congress president’s move to eschew nominating her son as the party’s prime ministerial candidate could be aimed at protecting him from what could be a bruising battle with BJP leader Narendra Modi on the campaign trail.

Modi, who is chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, has emerged as a favorite among a considerable section of the population that hopes he can replicate the economic success of his home state in the rest of the country with his pro-business and pro-reform policies.

And, Congress’s decision, Mint added, could foil a key part of the opposition’s campaign tactic of capitalizing on a direct confrontation between two of the most high-profile leaders in the country.

Rahul comes from a family that has led India's government through many generations. His father was former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991. He is the grandson of Indira Gandhi, who led India for more than a decade until her assassination in 1984, and he is the great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.