Precisely because they did not expect him to grant an interview, precisely because he is not expected to make a confident and clever interviewee, Monday night’s one-on-one with Arnab Goswami of the Times Now television news channel has elicited a few positive comments about Rahul Gandhi’s performance. At least, he mustered the courage to be interviewed, was the most positive reaction. Otherwise, quite aside from the usual sycophantic noises, the general response was a big thumbs-down for the man who is the second-most-important Congress leader and the party’s presumptive prime ministerial candidate should it be in a position to form the government after the coming polls. The Gandhi scion was vague about pointed questions, only rattled off stock words and phrases about the `system,’ women empowerment, inflation, et al when Goswami asked about specific men and matters. Like a little schoolboy who has come prepared to write an `essay on cow’, even if the question in the exam turns out to be about a horse, the Gandhi scion fitted in the drivel about RTI, empowering women, changing the system etc, whether the question pertained to the free pass given to Ashok Chavan despite the indictment in the Adarsh scam or about the corruption charges against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. The intellectual and political immaturity of the interviewee was on full display for over an hour. He ought to have been spared the torture, but, it seems, his backroom advisers have decided to expose him further to the media so that he can gather the confidence to face the world, as it were. For, interacting with the media is also part of a growing-up process for senior politicians the world over. For proof, scan the top leadership of most political parties and you will realise that barring a Mayawati or a Mulayam Singh Yadav, most leaders do not shy away from the media, even if they may loathe it for whatever reasons. In the case of the Gandhi scion, even if Goswami handled him with kid gloves, abandoning his usually pugnacious style, the man who helms the Congress’s campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha floundered. He often diverted his eyes towards whoever was his minder off-the-camera, looking for reassurance, ducked the occasional tough question with the usual spiel about the system and women empowerment, and so on. And even when an easy answer stared him in the eye, he evaded a direct response. Specifically, when repeatedly asked whether he would apologise for the 1984 Sikh killings, Gandhi chose to evade the issue, not realising that after the PM and other senior Congress leaders had apologised for the one-way riots, he could not have any qualms following their lead. Again, he came up short on the Gujarat riots, holding Narendra Modi responsible at the say-so of unnamed journalists and Congressmen, but choosing to ignore the clean chit given by various commissions and courts. Despite the clean chit from the courts, he sought to implicate the Gujarat Government in the riots, but falsely claimed that in 1984, the Congress Government tried to stop the riots. Even on the AAP, Gandhi was unconvincing, failing to directly take the question whether the Congress was relying on it to stop the Modi
Of course, what he did say was so self-contradictory that it barely requires mention. For instance, the parrot-like blame on the system wholly unmindful of the fact that if the system was flawed he, as the leading light of the family which had ruled the country for the longest period since the founding of the Republic, could not evade blame for making it what it is today. Again, the talk about concentration of power in `the hands of one person’ in the BJP and `internal democracy’ in the Congress was a lot of hogwash. Everyone knows who is the real boss in the Congress. He has to merely shout `nonsense’ or `three cylinders more’ and his wish is granted by the Cabinet, which is subservient to him. The Congress dynast clearly did not see the irony that he was where he was because he was a Gandhi. Now, nobody would suggest that being media-savvy is the all-important quality for a leader aiming at the top job in the country. You can be media-shy and still be a great leader. Had Manmohan Singh given a better account of himself as prime minister, maybe everyone, including the media, would have been kind to him. Sachin Tendulkar was not one of the most communicative of players but he was a great batsman and the media eulogised him no end. But when you completely lack leadership qualities and have a problem facing the media, it isn’t hard to see why Rahul Gandhi gets the bad press he does. In sum, he doesn’t have it in him what it takes to be a great leader. Period.