Stuck between Arnab and a hard place: Rahul's quandary

A very telling moment in Rahul Gandhi’s interview with Times Now's Arnab Goswami was when Mr.-India-Wants-to-Know was pugnaciously grilling him about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.

Rahul: All I'm saying is there is a difference between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots. The difference is that the government of the day in 1984 was not aiding and abetting the riots. That is all I'm saying.

Arnab: So you don't need to apologise for the '84 riots. If someone seeks an apology from you, will you give it? Your Prime Minister has apologised for the riots. Expressed deep regret. Will you do the same?

Rahul: First of all I wasn't involved in the riots at all. It wasn't that I was part of it.

Everyone knows that the first statement is nonsensical. Congress leaders were very much part of the aiding and abetting in 1984. For Rahul Gandhi to just deny it baldly is rewriting history, especially since at some point of the interview he conceded that some Congressmen were “probably involved”.

But then he can hardly be expected to go on national television and do a grand 1984 mea culpa either on behalf of his party. However, he could have said that unlike Modi, Manmohan Singh has specifically apologized for 1984. Instead it was left to Goswami to remind him of that.

 Stuck between Arnab and a hard place: Rahuls quandary

Did Rahul Gandhi fail to impress with his first public interview? PTI

The interview clearly shows how Rahul is in effect stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rahul is held accountable in the interview for all the sins of the Congress, even dating back to a time when he was not involved with the party.

On one level that’s unfair. Modi is not called upon to defend everything the BJP/NDA has ever done. But the problem for Rahul is Modi has his own track record. Rahul does not.

Rahul has created his own predicament. After spending much of the last decade acting as some would put it as a glorified intern allegedly rebuilding his party, he has little record of his own. He could have been a union minister if he had so chosen but he did not. If he had done that, Arnab could have talked about his achievements and failures there instead of attacking him about everything from the riots of 1984 to corruption scams under Manmohan Singh’s watch.

Rahul’s response to all those charges was simply to duck and recite homilies about empowering women. He tried to set himself up as the outsider when in fact he is the prince, not the pauper.

When Goswami asked how the party could preach about attacking corruption and contemplate an election alliance with someone like Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar, Rahul said, "These decisions of the Congress party are made by senior leaders."

If Rahul honestly thinks he is not a “senior leader” in his own party with little say in electoral alliances then someone should tell the party that before it goes to the polls. But in reality it’s a classic Rahul move to shy away from uncomfortable truths by pretending to be an outsider to the system.

But as elections draw closer that is just not going to work. The Congress, or any party for that matter, needs to be led from the front by someone who actually has a hunger for power. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided one’s hunger for power is about effecting change rather than lining one’s own pockets. Rahul thinks it’s a virtue to appear free from that hunger. As he told Goswami:

I don't get driven by the desire for power. I'm just not driven by it. For me power is an instrument that can be used for certain things. But for me, it's not interesting to own it, to capture it or to hold it.

The point is his party wants to capture it and hold it. And Rahul does it no favours by his act of half-abdication.

To his credit, Rahul for all his vague replies, put himself up for an Arnab Goswami inquisition though the editor held back on his usual incendiary fireworks. Perhaps Narendra Modi will do the same at some point but up to this point Modi has avoided the lengthy sit down television one-on-one. Modi is in reality quite inaccessible. He is just very visible and his visibility gets mistaken for accessibility.

Bashing Rahul is easy to do and a favourite political sport for commentators. But it’s also a fact that the man put himself through an interview that could not have been the most pleasant experience. At the end of it he emerged as someone earnest but vague, preferring to retreat to the safety of the broad stroke instead of answering the specific question put to him. He spoke about himself in the third person as if the whole interview was an out of body experience for him.

In the end after some 100 questions, the nation got to know many things from Rahul Gandhi. It’s just that most of them were not answers to questions Arnab asked.

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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2014 15:36:15 IST