First interview by Rahul Gandhi – not exactly impressive in terms of substance

You got to hand it to the guy. Either he has lots of courage, or the script did not work out like it should have, or somebody set him up. In any case, it was a grand occasion. Rahul Gandhi has been the undisputed leader of the Congress for many years now, especially after it was clear that Sonia Gandhi was not willing to become the Prime Minister. But in all these times, even though he has been the Prime Minister in waiting and the defacto power behind the throne, he has not been a public figure. Little is known about what he does for most of the year, he chooses where to appear or not appear, he has a spotty record in Parliament in terms of attendance and speaking / questions. And most of all, what he has given till now are soundbytes, not interviews where somebody has asked him questions and he has to reply.
So when he decides to go in for a full length interview, it is well capable of making news and so it did, with the interview being something that a large number of people would have switched to watch. Given that he had given a thundering speech at the AICC session a couple of weeks ago, there was anticipation of the interview and how this could be an occasion to present his views to the general public, and get many more people to understand the philosophy of the Congress, and more important, stem the ongoing decline in the public support for the Congress. You combine this with the fact that he presents a young, educated and erudite person with a fresh view, and things could not have been better. It is also very important for the Congress that he did well, since the Congress has been suffering pretty bad results in many of the local state elections, and current opinion polls show that the BJP is white-washing the Congress.
However, he has one major handicap. For a person looking to promote a party, when the Governments formed by the party are suffering from severe scandals and corruption problems in the center and in the states, it is very hard to defend some of these controversies. At the same time, it is even worse to defect direct accusations by changing the track to something else, which is what seems to have been the general public impression. The interview, to have any chance of being regarded as a success by the channel, would need to ask some of the direction questions that would typically have been avoided. And yet, even though such questions were difficult to defend, trying to answer on another track is certainly not the right path – you avoid having to acknowledge some of the controversies, but it is very much visible to the public that you have nothing to offer on that particular issue.
The Congress is particularly vulnerable to corruption and inflation, and has suffered massive blows because of these issues. On corruption, the number of problems are immense, such as 2G, Adarsh, Coalgate, Commonwealth Games, problems with Virbhadra Singh, and so on. It is easy to take a position that you are against corruption such as Rahul Gandhi, but for a party such as the Congress, trying to be specifically against corruption is problematic when you have so many examples right in front of you. And given all these, given the inflation levels of the past few years and the decreasing growth rates, there are so many other problems that are being faced by the Congress.
And this is where the interview really did not turn out to be a success story for the Congress. All of these issues were brought out during the question sessions, and yet, there were no clear answers. Questions about corruption were met with canned replies about the Congress being in the forefront of the fight against corruption, about having new laws to check corruption. Instances about Ashok Chavan and Virbhadra Singh were diverted, there was an attempt to downplay the involvement of the Congress and the inaction of the then Government in the 1984 anti-sikh riots in Delhi, and multiple other such efforts. It almost came out as an effort to push the positive points of what the Congress is doing or has done, without trying to take responsibility for the various problems that the Congress is facing or has faced.
In the end, what it comes down to is whether Rahul Gandhi can dissociate himself from the legacy (or should one call it the mis-governance) of Manmohan Singh ? It really seems doubtful, and since Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were the real power behind the throne, they should be taking responsibility for the various acts of the Government. Rahul Gandhi needs to try a different approach – he cannot pretend to be an outsider to the system; if not for the system, he would never be in the position that he is in right now.

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