Billed by Times Now "the interview of the year", Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's full-length television appearance on Monday night is likely to have disappointed his supporters, and inspired his detractors. The Congress' star campaigner shied away from opportunities to confront Gujarat chief minister and Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi head on, avoided the issue of Hindu nationalism, and provided few details on his party's agenda for government.
Instead, Mr. Gandhi tried to cast himself as an outsider, battling the establishment--an effort, perhaps, to appropriate elements of the Aam Admi Party's platform. He said he had seen his father, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, ground down by battles with what he called 'the system'. “I do not like what I see in Indian politics", he said. “This system every day is unfair to our people.”
The Congress vice-president Gandhi was, however, economical with detail on precisely what changes he envisaged. Indeed, he lauded achievements of the Congress, which ran 'the system' for much of post-independent India's history, ranging from the Green Revolution to the Right to Information Act.
Mr. Gandhi was at his weakest in his discussion of Mr. Modi's role in the Gujarat riots. Indeed, he seemed eager to avoid the issue, at one stage insisting "it is very important that people who have taken part in this kind of thing are brought to book. But the real issue at hand here is empowering the women of this country, giving them true power".
Though he blamed Mr. Modi’s government for "abetting and pushing the riots further", there was no discussion of the consequences Hindu nationalism might have for India's fabric.
He also insisted, in the face of evidence, that the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom was distinct from the Gujarat carnage, in that the government had tried to stop it.
The Congress vice-president shied away from frontal comparisons with Mr. Modi, though he said this was not driven by fear. Having watched his father struggle in politics, and seeing him die, Mr. Gandhi said, said, he does not fear losing an election.
In response to questions on why he remained silent on the corruption scandals that rocked the second United Progressive Alliance government, he appeared to blame Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "My position was that I report to the Prime Minister. Whatever conversations I had with the Prime Minister, whatever feelings I had on the issue, I made it known to the Prime Minister".
Mr. Gandhi's frequent references to himself in the third person led to some derision on social media, with several commentators noting that it was a habit of small children.He also offered mystifying responses to a question on whether he wanted to the Prime Minister. "“The real question is what I am doing sitting here?” he said.
Times Now television described the interview that it was the "first ever interview of the Gandhi scion". The first interview was, however, given to the Hindi-language newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, and published on January 14.