Rahul Gandhi gave a TV interview to Arnab Goswami. His performance was widely condemned. Since then, Rahul has been advised to avoid TV anchors like the plague. Had I been a TV anchor, this is how I’d expect it to go. This interview was dreamt of before the distribution of tickets
MKK: Good evening, Mr Gandhi. It is kind of you to agree to a TV interview, especially after your last attempt brought you more brickbats than bouquets.
RG: Good evening. At this stage, the interview is for your eyes only. It will be scanned by my media team. If they approve, you can share it with everybody else.
MKK: Suits me. Basically, I am on your side. It hurt me to read all those snide comments on Twitter and in the print media. I wish to show, that given a chance, you are capable of giving short and pithy answers to pointed questions. Shall we start?
RG: Go ahead.
MKK: You are a beneficiary of the dynastic system that prevails in the Congress party. Does this bother you?
RG: No, it does not. There is no dynastic system in the Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru was there purely on his own merit. He was picked up by Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru did not nominate Indiraji as his successor.
In fact, he was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri. After Shastriji, Indiraji was nominated by the Syndicate. She showed remarkable leadership qualities by winning the only war we have won in India’s long history. The country tried the Janata experiment, but it did not last. Indiraji had to be brought back. After Indiraji, Rajiv won a three-fourths majority in the Lok Sabha. Over the years, the country has tried out various options—VP Singh, Narasimha Rao, Chandrashekhar, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, et al. At last, Soniaji had to be brought in. She gave the Congress resounding victories in 2004 and 2009. So, what is the big deal?
MKK: Don’t you find it shameful that India, with its millions of people, is unable to find a ruler from among us Indians?
RG: Don’t you see the spirit of self-abnegation shown by Soniaji, when she refused to assume the prime ministership just because she did not wish to impose a Sushma Swaraj minus her hair on the Indian nation?
MKK: So many things happened during the last five years but you did not proactively respond.
RG: Contrary to your hype that my word is law within the party, the fact is that until recently nobody listened to me in the inner councils. Whenever I made a suggestion, I was pooh-poohed as a young novice who did not know what he was talking about. It was so frustrating. The only way to uphold one’s dignity was to maintain a studied silence.
MKK: To whom did you make the suggestions?
RG: At first I spoke to my mother, but her response was, “Come on, Rahul baba, play with your toys.”
MKK: Goodness gracious! What was your age at that time?
RG: I was six.
MKK: Did you expect to be taken seriously at that age?
RG: No, but you can see my position.
MKK: Did you try to intervene at the time of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984?
RG: I was just 14 at that time. One of my Sikh friends at school told me that my father’s comment about a banyan tree falling with a great thud had not been appreciated by his parents. I told Dad about it. He explained that his Hindi was weak and he had only repeated a proverb that his Hindi tutor had taught him.
MKK: When you were older, did you talk to Dr Manmohan Singh about various issues like the price rise, for instance?
RG: Yes, I did. But he was the Prime Minister and so old and experienced and an internationally known economist. So, what could I tell him?
MKK: What did you say and how did he respond?
RG: I told him that onions were selling at `100 a kilo and tomatoes at `80 a kilo. He was surprised. He had not been told about it. That day I learnt that the Prime Minister does not read newspapers and magazines, does not watch TV channels, does not buy stuff for his house and does not talk to vegetable and fruit vendors. His sole source of information is the Intelligence Bureau.
MKK: But does Gursharanji not inform him?
RG: I discovered that the Prime Minister’s family is wholly insulated from such knowledge. The Prime Minister’s house is the centre of bustling activity. There are meetings of the Cabinet, Cabinet committees, groups of ministers and important visitors. Food is constantly being prepared. The Director, Prime Minister’s household, a senior IAS officer, runs the entire show. Members of the PM’s household also partake of the meals. There is a standard charge for the PM’s family. The amount was fixed in 1950 and has not been revised since.
MKK: That is quite a revelation. It explains how the PM maintains his composure.
RG: Indeed it does.
MKK: When did your interventions start having an impact?
RG: I was able to raise the membership of the Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India to 25 lakh. We won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections handsomely, belying all the doomsday prophecies.
MKK: So, were you not given the credit for it?
RG: No. The funny part is that when the Congress won, it was due to other factors. When it lost, I got the blame.
MKK: When were you actually commended for what you and you alone had achieved?
RG: Well, it happened so suddenly. Ajay Maken was holding a press conference. I was feeling highly frustrated. The Supreme Court had passed a historic judgment, making those convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more ineligible for being elected or holding office. I had welcomed the judgment in inner party circles.
RG: So I was looking at the news on the internet. It came as a shock to me that the Government was bringing forward an ordinance to annul the decision. I talked to my mother. She said that if we did not annul the decision, some of our closest allies would be unseated and they would withdraw their support.
I was totally frustrated. I left the house to breathe some fresh air. Suddenly, I found myself in Ajay Maken’s press conference. I went in, not knowing what I was doing. I was highly excited. I got up to leave. Then I sat down in a different chair.
RG: Then you know what happened. I heard myself saying that the ordinance was nonsense and should be withdrawn. After throwing this bombshell, I literally ran out of the Press Club. I did not know how my mother would react to this outburst. The TV channels went viral. They did not understand what was happening. They thought I had gone berserk. But the funny part is that after the din and noise had settled down, everyone fell into line. What I wanted was approved and the ordinance was withdrawn. Thus, I discovered the power of the Moral Action.
MKK: What would you say are your major achievements?
RG: Well, whatever the Congress has innovated has been the result of my initiative. That includes the Right to Information Act or RTI, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA, women’s empowerment, Lok Pal Bill and so on.
MKK: Some people say that it was the success of the Aam Aadmi Party that pushed you into passing the Lok Pal Bill.
RG: That is partly true. I said as much on television. It vindicated my stand that even in politics “honesty is the best policy”. I find that the bigwigs in my party are now more amenable to my proposals.
MKK: But you do not apply thisprinciple in the everyday functioning of the party. You did not sack Virbhadra Singh, although there was an open and shut case against him.
RG: I am not at liberty to divulge the details. All I can say is: “Abhi picture baqi hai.”
MKK: What about Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi?
RG: The law will take its course. We have not given them tickets.
MKK: Why has the Congress not declared you as its prime ministerial candidate?
RG: Because we do not have a presidential form of government. Because the Congress party believes in following the Constitution.
MKK: But the BJP declared its candidate well in advance.
RG: Because they had so many candidates. Had they not nominated Modi, there would have been
MKK: Will you be the Prime Minister if the UPA comes back to power?
RG: It will be for the MPs to decide.
MKK: Do you think the UPA will win? All the polls seem to indicate otherwise.
RG: These polls have been proved wrong in the past.
MKK: But what is your assessment? RG: I think we will win and form the government.
MKK: What about the Modi wave sweeping the country.
RG: That is paid news.
MKK: One last question. When will you marry?
MKK: Thank you, Mr Gandhi, for being so frank and forthcoming in your answers.
RG: Thank you.
MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India