I watched the interview last night, thanks to V who was overwhelmed by FB posts on the subject, I’m assuming.
1. It was sooo boring. Arnab was clearly on his best behavior, and it’s a sad day when he comes off as the more intelligent one. RaGa is clearly not a politician or a person with any charisma, and couldn’t project a powerful message. Instead he kept waffling on about ‘the system’.
2. Much has been said about how dumb RaGa came across. While he certainly isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, to me he came across as well-intentioned and someone who fancies himself as a thinker but doesn’t have any earth-shattering thoughts, or if he does, can’t communicate them. This is not the same as dumb. He seemed to want to talk about macro issues, but macro issues are too vague for most people, and while AAP, for example, has quite successfully taken up a huge issue like corruption, their success is in making it emotive and underlining specific things that can be done to bring about change. RaGa on the other hand said nothing either emotive or specific. One hopes it’s just a communication problem and he does have specific ideas but unfortunately he let not even one specific idea slip through. More on that later.
3. His PR seems to have failed him here, because they should have advised him on the importance of good soundbytes. Before putting him on a show, they should have come up with some catchphrases that would hook people. Or, knowing him, should not picked have Arnab Goswami of all people as his interviewer. Pranoy Roy or Rajdeep Sardesai would have been more likely to have given him scope to expand on his vision. Arnab is famed for his talking point approach and while RaGa expressed irritation in the end at the superficiality of the questions, what else did he expect?
4. Where he fared most badly, I thought, was on the issue of the 1984 riots vs the Gujarat riots. He seemed delusional about the Congress and his own father’s role. It almost seemed as if he had only been allowed to hear the party line on the issue. The fact is that, unlike what he said, the two are almost the same. In both, the government of the day presided over riots and is widely believed to have abetted the rioters. Rajiv Gandhi himself is on record saying “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”, which stoked the fury of the rampaging mobs, exactly what we today accuse the Hindutva brigade of doing. The saving grace for the Congress is that 1984 happened ages ago and they can claim to have turned a new leaf. Unfortunately, for RaGa he is Rajiv’s son and cannot distance himself from the issue unless he categorically condemns his father. A bold step might have been to apologise for his party and his father’s role, but he refused to do so when asked point blank. I understand that might have been a risk because there are court cases on against some people, but it seemed like the thought of his own family’s culpability had never entered his mind. The next best thing would have been to capitalize on Manmohan Singh’s apology and say that the apology had already been made by the leader of the party, but he seemed to have forgotten about that until Arnab reminded him.
5. He was tripped up on a number of points such as his defense on why the Congress doesn’t come right out and declare him to be their candidate and how the Congress seems to be protecting corrupt ministers like Ashok Chavan (if they weren’t, he should have stated clearly how Chavan has been penalized by the party, while the courts take their time).
6. He also seemed to miss the irony in claiming that his central mission is to decentralize power as a route to reforming the system. The very fact of his existence speaks to centralization of power. His family is without doubt the most powerful in the country. If he was serious about centralizing power, he would have to remove himself first and his mother second leaving the Congress with no limbs to stand on. He cannot take on the mantle of leading the party, having achieved nothing that would be considered amazing had he not been Rajiv Gandhi’s son, and claim to be for decentralizing power and reforming the old regime. He is the old regime. Again, someone should have advised him that this is not the line to take because it is so transparently laughable.
7. I got the feeling that his Cambridge education might have something to do with his approach. He might have done better to study at a more anti-establishment place like Birmingham or Manchester or even anywhere in the US where he might have come up against some really radical and critical ideas, instead of swanning around with the establishment in Cambridge. That said, I would probably choose to go to Cambridge myself had I had the chance, just because…Cambridge.
8. On the subject of his education, when the question of the controversy came up – and this was an underhand move by Arnab because a quick Google shows that Cambridge has set the record straight on this matter – he could have used his education in development studies to indicate how he’s qualified for the job. Instead, I had to Google to find out what he studied. Another missed opportunity. Instead, he decided to quiz Arnab on whether he went to Cambridge. The point of that little parry was lost on me and Arnab came out of it looking good. Huh.
9. His trump card is his family background, and he seemed to know this and use it in a last ditch effort to curry favour. Or maybe he always goes on about his family – Arnab accused him of doing so point blank, and while he denied it, he had twice brought up his family unprompted. Unfortunately, even what he said about his family wasn’t good fodder for the grist mill, just the usual namedropping and how he grew up around these illustrious people zzzzz.
10.Arnab kept trying to corner him into committing to a face-to-face debate with NaMo and the one smart thing he did was to not commit to that. He would never win a debate with Modi, he doesn’t have the speaking skills.
On the whole, while he didn’t come across as someone with a revolutionary vision or intellect, that in itself doesn’t mean all is lost. Mediocre figureheads are not that unusual. The main thing is to surround themselves with a dream team. Unfortunately, Congress’s dream team was in power for two terms and seems to have lost their lustre. However, they still must have some bright sparks who can advise whichever figurehead they choose. Luckily, the BJP doesn’t seem to have a dream team either. They’re running on one man, and he’s a man who puts off many people. To me, lukewarm RaGa is preferable to NaMo because the former seems at least amenable to listening to other voices while NaMo comes across as someone who will rule with an iron fist and I, for one, can’t stomach what his fist stands for.
I think RaGa might have some good ideas for reforming the party and his political clout might have given him the rope to do so. So he should have stayed in the backdrop and worked on the reform he’s so keen on. He could have campaigned for the party in return and stood by a fresh candidate for PM that they picked. Unfortunately, over two terms, it seems like they haven’t groomed anybody else. And thus, him.