The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
So much has been written and discussed about Rahul Gandhi’s interview to Arnab Goswami – with most of them focussing on how the whole interview was a disaster. There’s always two sides for a coin, so I wanted to focus on reading/listening to those who liked or were in awe of Rahul Gandhi’s (unrelated) responses to Arnab Goswami’s questions. Three arguments stand out (in order of their priority):
1. At least he gave an interview, unlike Narendra Modi who walked out of an interview. He held his head high and did not run away despite being cornered.
2. He is earnest, honest, sincerest, best(est) etc (Abhishek Singhvi used many more adjectives, difficult to mention all of them here!)
The first point is the proof enough of the depths to which our public discourse has fallen to. The Congress has maintained this line of argument moments after the interview was over – be content that he sat through the interview. This is Rahul Gandhi’s only one on one interview ever. Comparing this with the myriad interviews that Narendra Modi has given both pre-and post that one interview in which he walked out, is ridiculous to say the least. Narendra Modi has faced the Press, the public and even investigative agencies more often than Rahul Gandhi and his supporters can even imagine – so to cling on to one interview that happened five years back is laughable to say the least.
The primary argument all these years has been that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t speak to the Press, but the Press itself has missed another key performance metric – his abysmal performance as a Member of the Parliament. His attendance is at a lowly 42 per cent . Even during this 42 per cent of the time, he was not present in the House for the entire Session! He has not asked questions, not participated in debates, and we don’t know about his performance as a standing committee member. Even if he doesn’t feel obliged to talk to the Press, why does he not speak in Parliament? Therein lies the key problem – Rahul Gandhi either does not wish to communicate, or does not know how to communicate. Both of which are not qualities you’d expect in a leader hailed as the next best thing to happen to India.
The second argument that he comes across as earnest, honest, etc. This argument has been made by many journalists who somehow can’t come to terms to simply criticise him. These arguments would have sounded valid if Rahul Gandhi did a similar interview in 2004, when he made a debut in politics. Ten years hence, if we are to cling on to “Rahul is sincere” argument without tangible results, what does it speak of the level of discourse? There is no need to bother to waste any more space on this argument. And then finally comes the article by Farzana Versey – “How Rahul Gandhi turned the tables”. This article also assumes importance because the chief spokesperson of the Congress Ajay Maken himself has tweeted about this article. Farzana starts off by addressing some key points on which Rahul Gandhi was criticised. The first point is that Rahul Gandhi will be specific in speeches he makes outside of the TV studios, and not in the “TRP-driven” environment. The exact opposite argument that Arnab Goswami has made. But here’s the problem – in the past 10 years, please show us 3-4 speeches of Rahul Gandhi where he made “specific” points in his speech on current happenings. Better yet – show us one speech where he spoke five specific achievements on “Women Empowerment” that he touts about. We won’t find them, because guess what – he never made them! Interviewers will choose to ask questions in the manner they chose – not in the manner you wish. If the latter happens, it’s no more an interview but a monologue.
We will come to the Narendra Modi argument after discussing the others. The anti-Sikh pogrom and his whole fumbling without apologising. Farzana asks us why he should apologise. Fair enough question – why should anyone get away by merely “apologising” for riots? Narendra Modi has exposed this specious argument years ago – if you think I am guilty, seek punishment according to law, not a mere apology. This discourse of “apology” is driven by the media, encouraged by the likes of this very Congress members. However, the most important point of this question is what exactly was Rahul Gandhi’s answer? He said, “The difference between 1984 and 2002 is that in 1984, the Government tried to stop the violence and in 2002, the Government encourage the riots”. Rahul Gandhi needs to be questioned on this view – there cannot be an escape plan for this. There cannot be a “he doesn’t care about Modi” argument about this, because this is a serious allegation that he has levelled against an elected Chief Minister (for three times). If the likes of Farzana wish that the anchor should not have pursued that argument, then tough luck!
As far as I know, no one with authority asked why he did not come clean on degrees – because we all think he came clean! The question was simple – did you do M.Phil in Cambridge. The answer was – Yes. I agree with Farzana – it doesn’t matter if your degree is from Cambridge or Kakinada. But it does matter if one lies about it – that was the question put and the answer was given. Chapter closed. The argument that Rahul Gandhi decided to ignore small issues in pursuit of bigger and important issues, thereby “turning the tables”, falls flat on the face when one takes a look at Rahul Gandhi’s earlier responses elsewhere. To a question on “Water Resource Management” in a CII summit, he ended up talking about “system” and “women empowerment”. Are we to believe that “Water Resource Management” is not a serious enough issue that deserves the attention of the vice-president of the Congress ? The fallacy that people hailing the interview are making, is to view this in interview in isolation.
“Turning the tables” does not mean answering RTI, Women Empowerment, Candidate selection for any question posed at any forum. Narendra Modi was hounded by an entire cottage industry on a single point agenda. Through his developmental work, he changed the discourse in the media – that of development in “specific” terms and not mere rhetoric. After 10 years of hounding him, the media then started debating specifics of various administrative programmes – merely because he performed, delivered and persisted. That is how you “turn the tables”. Rahul Gandhi was rueing that “no one talks about these issues” – which begs the question – why hasn’t he talked enough of “these issues” then? What or who stopped him from writing articles on “these issues”? What or who stopped him from giving lectures and speeches on “these issues”? What or who stopped him ensuring that people actually discussed “these issues”? Why did he not communicate with the people more vigorously on “these issues” before? Why rue it in an interview, and then claim “no one talks” about these issues?
Farzana underlines points that she thinks are key to Rahul Gandhi’s interview. One of them being -”I’m being attacked because I’m asking questions that are dangerous to the system.” What questions had Rahul Gandhi posed that are “dangerous”? Dangerous is a big word to use, so, we have the right to know what questions were posed? To whom were these questions posed? Who attacked him? Would this article amount to attacking him? Rahul Gandhi has failed in communicating this thoughts to the people of the country. If that amounts to “attacking” him, it is a pity that we have to bear the burden of having to see this man in power. Would the likes of Farzana enlighten on this?
And lastly, in defence of Rahul Gandhi’s answer (that must have even stumped Lalu) that they are not allying with Lalu- the person, but Lalu’s party – the idea, Farzana asks – “When was the last time we heard a politician talk about ideas? ” Err – many politicians talk about ideas – many politicians have won elections based on ideas – impossible to fathom that they think Rahul Gandhi is the only person talking about ideas. The failure is in Rahul Gandhi’s communication, not our comprehension.