‘On TV evidence, Rahul doesn’t have it to be PM’

Rahul Gandhi‘s interview with Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami has already led to a torrent of scrutiny and criticism, and there will be more tonight as the wise sages in Bombay and Delhi sit down to parse every paragraph and syllable.

But how did smalltown India receive Gandhi’s arangetram against the stylish backdrop of an M.F. Husain painting?

Here, K.B. Ganapathy, the erudite editor-in-chief of the evening tabloid Star of Mysore shares his thoughts.

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By K.B. GANAPATHY

Last evening I had my sundowner early enough to be ready to watch the TV channel Times Now at 9 pm waiting for the soon-to-become prime minister of India, Rahul Gandhi. He was to appear before Arnab Goswami, that loud-mouthed Times Now anchor who loves his own voice more than those whom he interviews and tackles in a panel discussion.

I was ready with a writing pad and a pen to write about the interview.

This interview, Arnab claimed, was Rahul’s first since he won the 2004 parliamentary elections. Rahul’s response was a denial saying he had given many press interviews but dodged the crux of the question that it was Rahul’s first TV interview.

Now, after I laboured through a languorous interview of over an hour, I discovered that this was the way Rahul was answering every one of Arnab Goswami’s questions. I am sure many attentive viewers too may have made the same discovery as yours truly.

Rahul, apparently in a show of bravado, told Arnab Goswami, who was going back in time, “…draw me back as much as you want.”

Arnab grabbed the opportunity and asked why Congress was avoiding announcing the prime ministerial candidate. The answer was something like this: “Issue is how a Prime Minister is chosen. It is MPs who select the Prime Minister. We have respect for the process.”

Arnab Goswami: What about 2009?

Rahul Gandhi: There was an incumbent Prime Minister.

In fact, knowledgeable people know whenever there is a person available in the Gandhi dynasty to become Prime Minister, that office would go to the member of that dynasty only.

In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn-in as prime minister, soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination without consulting the MPs. It was the majority of CWC that chose the prime minister even though, left to the MPs, Pranab Mukherjee, being No. 2 in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet, would have been chosen.

In fact, that was the reason for Pranab Mukherjee to leave Congress. Rajiv Gandhi too ignored him after assuming power. Let it be.

Sadly, Rahul Gandhi was unable to explain convincingly about this contradiction in what he told Arnab Goswami and what had happened in the Congress Party in the matter of choosing a Prime Minister.

Rahul Gandhi, in his detour of an answer, denied there was ever any arbitrary decision taken in choosing a PM, whatever it meant.

Questioned if he would face Narerddra Modi in a debate, once again the answer was devious and said, ‘You must understand Rahul Gandhi. I want to ask you a question…’ For this, Arnab’s answer was, ‘I can’t be a half journalist. I ask this question because Narendra Modi is challenging you on a daily basis.’

Answering further questions, Rahul went rambling — people of honesty are destroyed by the ‘system,’ question of losing or winning an election does not arise, etc.

After the interview, Arnab Goswami invited Vinod Mehta, that veteran journalist and mentor of Outlook magazine along with another author for their opinions about Rahul’s interview. Vinod Mehta rightly said, recalling Rahul’s concern for correcting the ‘system,’ that all these years, all those who tried to fix the system got themselves fixed and threw up their hands in despair.

I thought of Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi to whom the ever helpful media gave the reverential epithet Mr. Clean. This Mr Clean went to Bombay soon after becoming the Prime Minister, delivered an India-shaking speech criticising the power brokers in his party and vowed to end this menace that was the cause for corruption.

What happened? Soon Rajiv Gandhi himself got mired in corruption scandal of Bofors gun deal, lost the election to V.P. Singh and the rest was tragic history.

Question: Narendra Modi calls you Shehzada. Are you afraid of losing to Modi?

The answer was again abstract and irrelevant. ‘Rahul Gandhi wants to empower women. We will defeat BJP etc., etc.’

Question: Is Narendra Modi responsible for Gujarat riots? Courts gave him clean chit. Congress wants to put Modi on the back foot on this issue. What about 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi? Was Congress responsible?

Here, Rahul Gandhi had a new take by way of answer. According to him, in Gujarat, the government headed by Narendra Modi abetted the massacre, while in Delhi the Congress government tried to contain the killings.

Arnab Goswami told Rahul Gandhi that while Narendra Modi got the army in 48 hours, in Delhi, it took 72 hours and many Congress leaders were arraigned in criminal cases in this Sikh massacre and the cases are still being dragged on.

Listening to this part of the interview, I was wondering why the learned media wizards and the smart politicians don’t see a distinction between 2002 Gujarat riots and 1984 Delhi massacre. The Gujarat violence was a communal riot. It is not important who provoked it because that will not justify killings at all.

The law of the land should prevail, not mass violence.

Here, both Hindus and Muslims died, but majority of people who died were Muslims. However, in Delhi, it was not a communal riot. It was a pogrom, like what happened to Jews during World War II in Germany.

Just because two Sikh security guards killed our Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, some Congress party members and admirers of Indira Gandhi allegedly massacred innocent Sikhs in a sudden, surprise attack. Now, 30 years on, our country’s legal system could not punish the culprits!

Will Rahul Gandhi, if and when he becomes the Prime Minister fix this ‘legal system’ so that aam aadmi gets justice without delay. Can he? I doubt.

To be honest, much as Congressmen would like to make Rahul Gandhi the Prime Minister of India, my gut feeling, after seeing him face the interview, is that he will not fit into the Prime Minister’s slot.

He was simply not clear in his mind what he wants to do for the country’s many challenging political, economic and social issues.

Yes, I must mention here that Rahul was asking Arnab Goswami why he was not asking questions about issues related to corruption, women empowerment, bringing youngsters into politics, etc. This was when Rahul was unable to face the tricky, difficult questions from Arnab Goswami.

Rahul did not seem a person with intellectual streak or with oratorical or debating skill.

Power of speech is what makes a leader.

History is replete with such leaders — Julius Caesar, Antony, Hannibal, Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Lenin, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose…. At present Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

After seeing the interview, I don’t think, Rahul has what it takes to make one a Prime Minister or a great leader.

He was asked: If he wants to end corruption, how can he have alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar who has been convicted of corruption? The clever answer from Rahul was that the alliance was with the Party RJD and not with Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Likewise, he was asked about the ‘dynasty’ of which he is the No. 1. His answer was again a clever one: “In every party one could see ‘dynasty.’ I did not sign up and say I must be born in this dynasty or family,” etc., etc.

He further clarified in his own rambling, inchoate manner, to a question, his opinion about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It was a non-answer ! He was for opening the ‘system’ to end dynasty but there is no Abracadabra to do that.

I must appreciate here that for once that talkative, argumentative, belligerent Arnab Goswami was too condescending to Rahul Gandhi; too patient, too gentle and may I say too sympathetic to a person sitting before him, tensed up, with a smear of sweat on his pink visage, not sure of himself in answering the questions.

And I thought it was rather rude and even unkindly on the part of Arnab Goswami to ask Rahul Gandhi if he was prepared for a TV debate with Narendra Modi.

By now I had come to anticipate Rahul’s answer to such direct, taunting question and, as I correctly guessed, he said ‘his party would be ready for such a debate’. Now Manish Tewari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Digvijay Singh… please get ready to face Narendra Modi.

And finally, it was interesting to hear in the beginning of the interview itself about Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualification about which that acerbic Dr Subramanian Swamy had some doubts. Surprisingly Rahul in turn asked Arnab Goswami if he was ever in Cambridge.

When the answer was yes, Rahul mentioned about an ‘affidavit’ he had filed etc., etc. about his having a degree from Trinity College.

Well, that was an insipid, boring interview, but I was left wondering, as I retired to bed, how could Vinod Mehta say Rahul’s was a creditable performance? Honesty in journalism may not always be the best policy.

After all, his own magazine Outlook has described Rahul Gandhi as ‘Sunset Prince’ and after watching this interview, I don’t think Outlook was wrong in its opinion.

(This piece was originally published in Star of Mysore)