It was evident that Rahul Gandhi’s first television interview didn’t go too well for him, or for his party. Describing the 80-minute-long interview, The New York Times said “Mr. Gandhi fumbled, stared with a blank expression and a tilted head and looked wounded at times.”
What struck me most, through the interview, was the extent to which Gandhi wanted to avoid mentioning the leader of the principal opposition party, Narendra Modi. Through the interview on Times Now, the channel’s Managing Editor Arnab Goswami mentioned the name “Modi” 28 times, while Gandhi, despite his best efforts, was forced to mention the name only three times. He chose to refer to Modi as BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” on other occasions.
Right at the outset, it was clear that Gandhi was going to focus on four areas: changing the system (which began trending on twitter half-way through the broadcast), women’s issues, the Right to Information Act (RTI), and involving youth in governance; all valid areas to talk in the party’s present predicament, but certainly not meaty enough topics to be repeated as often as he chose to. He seemed to address issues with a certain sincerity and honesty, which is why he struggled to defend the actions of his predecessors.
Since his performance has been analysed threadbare by both mainstream and social media, being a progressive, I have taken the liberty of playing Mr. Gandhi’s interview coach. And since we can all expect him to be doing a few more of these in the next few months before elections, with the help of a few experienced journalists, here’s a list of some questions that he could have answered better and suggestions for what would have been the best, or better, answers.
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Arnab: Why has it taken so long?
Rahul: I have done a little media interaction, prior to this. I have done press conferences and spoken to the media. But mainly bulk of my focus has been on internal party work and that’s where I have been concentrating, that is where most of my energy was going.
The idea was right, but again, the extra words are only making the anchor more comfortable.
Better Answer: I’ve preferred to focus my energy on internal party work.
Arnab: Or is that you have been reluctant to communicate more on one to one basis?
Rahul: Not at all, I have had many many press conferences that you have seen. I don’t have that issue.
“I don’t have that issue” is asserting a negative; why acknowledge any statement as a negative at all?
Better Answer: It is a question of prioritising, interacting with media can be a full time job and I didn’t want to get distracted with that — plus we have several eloquent stalwarts in the party who are experienced spokespeople.
Rahul says announcing a PM prior to an election is not actually written in the constitution.
Arnab retorts: “You did that in 2009?”
Rahul: No, we didn’t
Better Answer: He was an incumbent prime minister then, who had performed well in the previous term and was evidently someone who we, correctly, thought India would like to know would be given a second term.
Arnab: See Rahul we can go up and down on this question. The fact of the matter is this, who else will they choose, and who else will Congress MPs choose if not Rahul Gandhi?
Rahul: That is up to them right, but what one has to do and this is central to what I keep saying is that democracy is about respect of processes. Democracy is about non-arbitrary decisions. Democracy is about spreading decisions; it is not about destroying processes. There is a process in the constitution and that process says, and it is clearly written in the constitution, and it says members of parliament are to be elected by the population and members of parliament are to elect the Prime Minister. All I am doing is respecting that process.
Better Answer: Many. There are many members of the Congress party who are qualified, driven and intelligent leaders, fit to be India’s prime minister. It’s important we respect the parliamentary process of electing a prime minister and that’s what I am doing.
You had the right idea, but I suggest you show that you’re a proud leader of the party. This serves four purposes: i) reinforces your philosophy of being a democratic leader ii) shows the other party’s weakness in not having many options within them iii) wins you brownie points with your own party iv) shows audiences that you are alreadyperforming the role of a leader.
Arnab: Are you avoiding a direct face-off with Narendra Modi? Is there a fear of loss Rahul because this election is not looking good for the Congress party from overall estimates? And the growing belief is that if Rahul Gandhi has not picked up the challenge officially that means that there is a fear of loss, he is avoiding a direct one on one battle with Narendra Modi, you must answer that?
Rahul: To understand that question you have to understand a little bit about who Rahul Gandhi is and what Rahul Gandhi’s circumstances have been and if you delve into that you will get an answer to the question of what Rahul Gandhi is scared off and what he is not scared off. The real question is what I am doing sitting here, you are a journalist, when you were small you must have said to yourself I want to do something, you decided to become a journalist at some point, why did you do that?
Avoiding negative comments on Modi is good strategy. It would have helped if you deflected the interviewer’s attempts at taking you down that path by asserting your sales pitch to the audience with the same question. And please avoid speaking about yourself in the third person – it only exposes your consciousness (and every public figure is), to public perception.
Better Answer: I am very confident of the Congress party winning this election, I am confident of the progress and growth our country has made, I think we have a lot of changes to make, which I have acknowledged a few times at press conferences, and I think a lot of the country wants to see us back in power over any other party so that we can lead those changes, which I think we have seen and understood better than anyone else.
Arnab: Once I decided to become a journalist, I can’t be half a journalist. Once you have decided to get into politics and you are leading your party effectively, you can’t be leading your party by half, so I’ll throw the question, with respect, back to you, Narendra Modi is challenging you on a daily basis?
Rahul: You are not answering my question, but I will answer the question and that will give you some insight into how Rahul Gandhi thinks. For that I will have to expand a little bit about my growing up, how I grew up and the circumstances in which I grew up. What I saw when I was a child, my father, who was a pilot, and because of circumstances was thrown into the political system and all I saw when was small after my grandmother died was my father in constant-constant combat with the system in India and then I saw him die actually.
In my life I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child when these things happen to you, what I had to scared off I lost, there is absolutely nothing I am scared off. I have an aim, I have a clear aim in my mind and the aim is that I do not like what I see in Indian politics, it is something that is inside my heart. It is like in our mythology when they talk about Arjun, he only sees one thing, he does not see anything else, you asked me about Mr. Modi you ask me about anything and the thing that I see is that the system in this country needs to change, I don’t see anything else and I am blind to everything else.
I am blind because I saw people I love destroyed by the system. I am blind because the system everyday is unfair to our people, I ask you today, you come from Assam and I am sure that you also in your work feel the unfairness of the system. The system everyday-everyday hurts people and I have felt the pain that the system can cause. I felt the pain with my father, I saw him every single day of his life, so the question of whether I am afraid of losing an election or whether I am afraid of Mr. Modi is not actually the point. I am here basically for one thing, I see tremendous energy in this country, I see more energy in this country than any other country, I see billions of youngsters and I see this energy is trapped.
You should throw a question back only when you know how the answer will be. Either you embarrass him with his answer or you agree with him, to clarify yours. This is also an opportunity to remind India of their love for your family and your legacy. There’s no point running away from a legacy, you’re better off embracing it, owning it, and using it to your advantage.
So this might be the better answer: Well, I am not a politician because it challenges me professionally, I am a politician because I have grown up seeing, and even being a victim, to the destruction the system and its efficiencies can cause. My grandmother and father were killed because they dedicated their lives to India and because they were loved. I think over the years I have had the privilege of growing up in an environment where I’ve been exposed to our country’s strengths and weaknesses and can’t help but feel driven to change a lot of the system that is frustrating the incredible energy India has today. The only thing I am afraid of today is the damage the system is doing to our young, energetic people. I see more energy in this country than any other country in world and I’ve seen the damage that this suffocating system can cause up-close. I think it’s the system that frustrate people who end up killing their prime ministers — both my grandmother and my father were victims of the wrongdoings of our system.
Arnab: The fact remains that Narendra Modi has been given a clean chit, in the Gulberg massacre case by the SIT and the court Mr. Gandhi. My question to you is “can the Congress party sustain its attack on Mr. Narendra Modi on this issue when he has been given the clean chit by the courts in the Gujarat riots.
Rahul: The Congress party and the BJP have two completely different philosophies, our attack on the BJP is based on the idea that this country needs to move forward democratically, it needs push democracy deeper into the country, it needs to push democracy into the villagers, it needs to give women democratic powers, it needs to give youngsters democratic powers. It is about opening the doors of the congress party, about empowering the youth.
Good ! You added a new dimension that was relevant yet took the interviewer away from making you take a stand on Gujarat riots. However, since you know you don’t have a lot more to add to these points, we suggest you use each data point wisely.
A better answer: The Congress party and the BJP have two completely different philosophies, our attack on the BJP is based on the fundamental difference that we think this country needs to move forward democratically, it needs to push democracy deeper into the country, while the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate wants to further centralise control and power.
Arnab: The CM of Gujarat has been given a clean chit by the courts
Rahul: The difference between the 84 riots and the riots in Gujarat was that in 1984 the Government was trying to stop the riots. I remember, I was a child then, I remember the Government was doing everything it could to stop the riots. In Gujarat the opposite was the case. The Government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further. So there is a huge difference between the two things, saying that innocent people dying is absolutely wrong.
This was the point where you could have given it back to Arnab, as he was factually wrong.
Better answer: The CM of Gujarat has not been given a clean chit by the SIT. There are two reports by the SIT, and I urge you to read those. The reports submitted in 2010 and then in 2012, accept that there is evidence in what Zakia Jafri has said, but the evidence is not prosecutible. Also, the SIT holds the CM responsible for trying to inflame passions through speeches and yatras, not silence them. So I wouldn’t call that a clean chit. The case has gone for appeal, what the Human Rights Commission said at the time, what the Supreme Court said at the time, point direct fingers to the dubious role of the state government.
Arnab: Explain that. Government of Gujarat was aiding and abetting the riots is what you just said, explain that?
Rahul: I mean it’s not me…it’s the large number of people who were there, large number of people who saw actively the Government of Gujarat being involved in the riots.
Arnab: You will keep that line despite the CM getting a clean chit from the courts?
Rahul: I mean, people saw it. I am not the person who saw it, your colleague saw it. Your colleagues told me
Arnab: They saw the riots?
Rahul: The saw the administration actively attacking minorities
You got caught in the 1984/2002 riot trap here. A few quotes or page numbers from the SIT report would have been handy. Your answers showed that you were either unaware or unconfident of the facts of the case. A confident narration of hard facts can win the confidence of viewers, and whatever the motive be, Modi has never publicly apologised for Godhra even if only as an act of incompetence.
Better answer: You just have to read what the Supreme Court said at the time as they transferred cases out of Gujarat, something that has never happened in Independent India. The Army was not called in and the situation was allowed to get worse. The speeches of the Gujarat CM, that came under the scanner of the Human Rights Commission, were inflammatory. Several IPS officers, the largest in any Indian state, have gone on record talking about the state government’s role in abetting or being complicit by inaction. In any case, just allowing deaths to take place in his watch and never find the need to regret even incompetence if not being complicit is wrong.
Arnab: What are you saying? Can you explain?
Rahul: I am saying that there was difference between the 1984 riots and the riots in Gujarat. The difference was that the Government in 1984 was trying to stop the riots, trying to stop the killing whereas the Government in Gujarat was allowing the riots to happen.
This is a good statement of fact. However, you need to drive home the fact that your party has had the decency to apologise while the other hasn’t.
Better answer: The difference is that the Congress has already apologised at the highest level. The PM and the Congress President have. There are people on trial as we speak and we haven’t waited for courts to decide before denying electoral space to all individuals related to 1984. We didn’t go and make one alleged member of party behind the unfortunate events of 1984 a prime ministerial candidate.
These are some fundamental differences but I don’t appreciate comparing events of two acts of communal violence; both were unacceptable, lives were lost on both instances and we should, unlike the BJP, be thinking of healing and creating conditions where people can realise their potential.
Arnab: There was an SIT finding. It was challenged by Zakia Jafri. It went up there and the courts upheld what the SIT found. Are you questioning the wisdom of the courts Mr. Gandhi?
Rahul: Look. All I’m saying, all I’m saying is that there is a difference between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots. The simple difference is that in 1984 the government was not involved in the massacre of people. In Gujarat it was. The question is why do these kind of things take place. Why is it that the Gujarat riots took place? The Gujarat riots took place frankly because of the way our system is structured, because of the fact that people do not have a voice in the system. And what I want to do. And I have said it and I will say it again. What I want to do is question the fundamentals over here. What I want to do is ask a couple of questions. I want to ask why candidates that are chosen in every single party are chosen by a tiny number of people. I want to ask why women have to be scared to go out on the street. I want to ask these questions. These are fundamental questions.
At this point, you should just have repeated key points instead of going into the details. And with a noble, magnanimity in your tone. The problem was several half answers to the same question.
Best answer: The courts have yet to decide anything. One court has given a view, the final word has not been said, the matter is under appeal. But this is not about the courts alone. There is political culpability which is key and Indians can see that. And again, I don’t appreciate comparing horrific acts of communal violence; both are jarring stains in India’s history.
Arnab: So you don’t need to apologise for the ’84 riots. If someone seeks an apology from you, will you give it? Your Prime Minister has apologised for the riots. Expressed deep regret. Will you do the same?
Rahul: First of all I wasn’t involved in the riots at all. It wasn’t that I was part of it.
Best answer: I was 14 when they took place. I was deeply horrified by whatever I could sense then and later when I understood what they were about. We have already apologised for it at the highest possible level. If anything, there should have been learning from that time which saw horrific mob violence. 2002 cannot be justified using 1984.
Arnab: Was it part of the empowerment of people that Ashok Chavan was protected in the Adarsh Scam despite the fact that the judicial commission actually said that he was involved in a quid pro quo? A Chief Minister, an ex Chief Minister forced to go because of one of the biggest scams. Which was by the way Mr. Rahul Gandhi played out greatly on Times Now. Is he being protected? The CBI is not getting permission to prosecute him. You can say all this Mr. Rahul Gandhi about the legislative framework to fight corruption. But my question to you is more fundamental. You have not shown the political will to use your tremendous influence to ensure that Ashok Chavan faces justice. You said a little bit and you moved back. Why are you still protecting Ashok Chavan.
Rahul: I’m sorry the Congress party wherever we have had issues of corruption we have taken action. On every front. We are the ones who brought the RTI which is the single biggest weapon against corruption. And we got it ourselves. We are the ones who delivered RTI to this country.
Attack is the best form of defense. This question provided you an excellent opportunity to talk about Congress; tough actions, not just stance, against corruption. By simply listing these, you would have been able to avoid messy follow-up questions into details of the Ashok Chavan-Adarsh scam. And you missed the most obvious follow up: the way the BJP handled corruption allegations against its Chief Minister Yeddyurappa in Karnataka.
Better Answer: It is ridiculous to suggest we are protecting Ashok Chavan. How can the party behind the RTI protect anyone? It’s like accusing a baker of burning down his own bakery. (Ridiculing the question with a metaphor would help convince audiences who don’t have a thorough understanding of the details of the scam.) To maintain high standards of accountability, Chavan stepped down as CM in November 2010. Have you seen any CM from other parties resigning on allegations. Kalmadi too resigned as Chairman of CWG organizing committee on allegations of corruption. It is the Congress-led government that ordered a judicial inquiry into Adarsh irregularities. Its scope of work included probing the conduct of politicians and bureaucrats. The state has accepted the commission’s scathing report. The CBI, meanwhile, filed a chargesheet against Chavan. The law is taking its course.
Arnab: I want your response to Subramanian Swamy (who has raised questions about Rahul’s stint in Cambridge), how do you deal with this?
Rahul: You want me to show you my degree, I can show you my degree
Responding to this only validated the accusation. You should have brushed it off by questioning the credibility of the source. Asking the interviewer of his collegiate career isn’t helping; it sounds like you were asking him to test you for having to Cambrdige and brought back memories of the TV series Suits.
Better answer: I’d really rather not get into this. Mr. Swamy makes a new ludicrous claim every few months, I have given a sworn affidavit, I can’t do much more than that to satisfy him; let’s all get to some work.
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