Congress Party’s vice president Rahul Gandhi (A TV grab from Times Now)
Rahul Gandhi came to his career’s first news interview, with Arnab Goswami of Times Now, accompanied by Rahul Gandhi. It was like a doppelganger whom only Rahul could see and explain to Arnab.
It was rather instructive that in the first 15 minutes or so of his interview Gandhi answered three questions invoking Rahul Gandhi as if he was some apocryphal character trying to divine himself into reality.
It was also amusing to hear Arnab insert “Rahul” in his questions as if making sure that he was indeed talking to one and that he had not imagined this whole conversation.
The Times Now editor-in-chief asked Gandhi “Are you avoiding a direct face-off with Narendra Modi?”
Gandhi: 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 of and what he is not scared of.
As Arnab persisted to draw Gandhi out over Modi’s daily needling of him, Gandhi said, “… 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.”
Arnab asked him again, “ a) What is your view of Narendra Modi? b) Are you afraid of losing to Narendra Modi, Rahul please answer my question as specifically as you can?
Gandhi: What Rahul Gandhi wants to do, is Rahul Gandhi and millions of youngsters in this country want to change the way the system in this country works. What Rahul Gandhi wants to do is empower the women in this country, wants to unleash the power of these women, I mean we talk about being a superpower…
From the first 20 minutes of the interview that I watched, I found a young man trying to find some extenuating circumstance for a life of privilege he was born to through enlightened ambiguities. One felt that at any point Arnab could ask, “Rahul, Who is this Rahul Gandhi that you keep referring to? I thought I had come to interview Rahul Gandhi and not Rahul Gandhi.”
Granting an extensive interview to a news anchor who loves his voice to the exclusion of all others with the possible exception of his own echo was an interesting strategy. The idea of Gandhi’s media managers appeared to be to take head-on a media figure who enjoys considerable currency among the age group of Indians who tend to deride Rahul’s privileged existence in unvarnished ways. In doing so, Gandhi’s managers might have reasoned, let us get the elephant out of the room first.
Arnab lends himself to often vicious critique because he has confected a television persona that swings between that of a genuinely interested news anchor and a ratings-conscious hack entertainer. He is a tempting target for ridicule. However, he did ask Rahul many right questions in so much as they represent the popular angst among the very demographic of the Indian electorate that the politician is reaching out to. Arnab did a terrific job of first landing the big get much to the envy of other self-absorbed anchors and then managing to ask specific questions of a man who loves porous generalities.
In the final analysis, such interviews are of no consequence because both the parties come armed with their particular agenda—the journalist with the agenda to ask tough questions to burnish his or her own image and the politician to counter them with infuriating non-sequiturs and suspicious sequiturs. And a good television is had by all.