It’s not every weekend that you get to watch interviews with Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. But if that is one of your ambitions, it was realised last weekend. Rahul G sat comfortably in his garden for a Q&A with Aaj Tak/ Headlines Today, while Narendra Modi made himself at home in the studio of Aap Ki Adalat (India TV).
Did the interviews change the viewer’s opinion of either? Did they convince viewers to change their votes in favour of one or the other? Nope. Both interviews were bland; neither said anything you have not heard before. The anchors, Javed M. Ansari (Aaj Tak) and Rajat Sharma (India TV) did not ask any question that may have provoked, challenged or exposed the two politicians; they allowed the latter to give long, generalised answers that could have been culled from any of their election speeches.
Viewers inclined towards the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s “toffee” sweet dimple would have been relieved that he did not introduce women’s empowerment, youth and systemic change into every answer; fans of “Abki baar, Modi sarkar”, would have been chanting “Modi, Modi, Modi” along with the studio audience.
The Rahul Gandhi interaction with Ansari, on Saturday, was mercifully shorter than his exchange with Arnab Goswami (Times Now) — less than 30 minutes. He was more relaxed, earnest as ever, and quite comfortable speaking in Hindi. The choice of the garden as the venue for the interview lent it an informality.
Another difference was that Rahul took Modi’s name, something
he had refrained from doing in the Goswami interview. And although he did mention the youth, the RTI and empowering the people, he spoke more on the ideological differences between the Congress and BJP: the Congress is for the poor, the BJP has a corporate base was his essential argument. Sonia Gandhi, in her unprecedented message to the nation on Tuesday, expanded on this theme of a divisive BJP against an inclusive Congress — the choice is yours. That she chose to address the public in a television address suggests a quiet desperation in the Congress.
Unfortunately for her, there is reason to be anxious. NDTV’s opinion poll on Tuesday gave the NDA 275 seats with the BJP alone winning 226 seats, while the Congress will be reduced to 92 seats. If this turns out to be fairly accurate then no amount of TV interviews by Rahul or appeals by Sonia will help them.
Modi’s performance on Aap ki Adalat was assured, almost arrogant — “Ek bhi chunav hum haarte nahin hain.” He was conciliatory and answered with aplomb questions on divisive politics, Muslims being scared by the sound of his name. He said that there was only “one god — raaste alag alag hain.” He insisted that communalisation cannot work in India, that every Indian citizen has the same rights that Modi himself enjoys and that the Muslims in Gujarat are not scared by his name — on the contrary, they are elated. If you are a Modi voter you will believe him; if you are not, you may remain unconvinced by the rhetoric.
The entire interview was punctuated by cries of “Modi, Modi, Modi” and loud applause from the audience. While the accusation by the former editorial director, India TV (who has reportedly resigned in protest) that the interview was fixed is impossible to prove, clearly the audience consisted of people who supported Modi. Sharma, meanwhile, was almost sweet on him. He asked naïve questions like, “Why should Muslims be scared of Modi?” like he was asking why it rained today.
But if Modi was asked soft questions, so was Rahul. That is one thing they have in common. In neither of his interviews has Rahul been asked about his family, in particular the allegations of corruption against Robert Vadra, although he suggested that industrial group Adani was the beneficiary of Modi’s largesse. Similarly, Modi was not asked directly about the 2002 riots.
Speaking of soft interviews, nothing could have been lighter than the cosy chat with Akhilesh and Dimple Yadav (Politics Uncut, Times Now). They were at home (huge, plush house)
with their children, offering home-cooked goodies to the wide-eyed correspondent, Ruby Dhalla. The daughter sang a song, the son fancied a Lamborghini car and Akhilesh was asked what he would buy for Dimple. Very politically correct.