Arnab Goswami (Times Now): Are you afraid of losing to Narendra Modi, Rahul, please answer my question as specifically as you can?
Rahul Gandhi (vice president, Congress): Rahul Gandhi wants to empower women.
Goswami: How is Narendra Modi responsible for the (Gujarat) riots when the courts have given him a clean chit?
Gandhi: Our party believes that women should be empowered.
Goswami: Is your party’s argument about putting him on the back foot on Gujarat flawed?
Gandhi: The real issue at hand here is empowering the women of this country. Does the sun rise in the east or the west? The fundamental question here is, how do we empower women?
In his first “formal” interview to TV news, Rahul Gandhi and Arnab Goswami were speaking different languages. It was like watching the Republic Day parade, Sunday, on DD News: one commentator in English or Hindi, the other in sign language — and the viewer left to understand one or the other. Here too.
Towards the end of the 90-odd minute Q&A, Gandhi termed Goswami’s questions “superficial”, shook a finger at him: “You didn’t once ask me questions on how we’re going to get jobs for youngsters… you didn’t ask me once about what we’re going to do for the women, for this country…” Goswami, accustomed to wagging his tongue at his guests, countered: “This is an interview. You called my questions superficial… I feel my questions are specific.” Many such exchanges left the viewer thoroughly perplexed: did Gandhi hear what he was being asked? Did Goswami listen to Gandhi’s replies? No and no.
The interview was a coup for Times Now. It’s the biggest interview of the year, unless someone lands a hard-hitting interview with Narendra Modi. Apart from all the tweets and reports in the media, it has generated prime-time tele-debates. Indeed, Goswami found himself in the unusual position of debating his own interview on Monday and Tuesday nights — now that must be another first. But it had other channels interested too: The Last Word (CNN-IBN) on Tuesday examined what Rahul G may have learnt from the interview — plenty, if you heard the panelists.
And in truth, there was much to criticise. Repetition. Early in the interview, Gandhi referred to “the system” six times in as many sentences. And it continued throughout. He uttered the word in such dire tones, you felt a monster was simply waiting for the interview to end before it systematically gobbled us all up in its “predatory” (Gandhi’s word) way. Empowerment, women, youngsters, RTI, deepening democracy — these were Gandhi’s “real issues” and trotted out to all questions — which also became repetitious since Goswami had to repeatedly repeat the questions because Gandhi would not directly address those regarding Modi, 2002, 1984, corruption.
Typically, TV talk show guests on TV talk shows come on with a programmed message that they deliver, no matter what they’re asked. But Gandhi took it too far for his own good. To begin with he sounded earnest, but by the nth “system”, he was clearly being evasive too. It was poor TV, erasing the good impression his sincere demeanour and his initial vision statement had created. He was more convincing handling personal questions, on being the reluctant prince, on taking criticism, dynastic politics. When he said he wasn’t interested in power, you believed him.
If Gandhi was repetitive, desultory, given to platitudes, Goswami was as pointed and focused as a compass and revelled in asking uncomfortable questions. He went for all the difficult questions of today, ignoring Gandhi’s “long-term view”.
Was this a nervous television debut for Gandhi? Well, he blinked often, paused frequently and repeating oneself can be a sign of nerves. On the other hand, he smiled and was steadfastly polite, taking on board a wide range of questions, even if he didn’t answer them all. The interview was long: 45 minutes would have been a good interview and better for Gandhi. It would have eliminated the repetitions and exposed his weaker links only briefly. Next time, then.
Now we’re waiting to see if Modi will be a target in the firing line, and if the interview will be equally unsparing.