How Rahul Gandhi Did in His First TV Interview


NEW DELHI — It was a highly anticipated TV event on Monday night: Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party’s election campaign, sat down with Arnab Goswami of Times Now, the most aggressive journalist on an English-language television network in India, for the politician’s first formal TV interview.

That Mr. Gandhi chose Mr. Goswami for his first interview was surprising to many observers. “No senior leader gives a television interview very often,” said Amulya Ganguli, a political analyst. “When was the last time Sonia Gandhi gave a television interview? When was the last time Narendra Modi gave one?”

Earlier this month, the Congress Party hired the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, which did not respond to emailed questions about why Mr. Gandhi chose to give his first interview to Times Now. But Mr. Goswami said in an interview with that it was the huge viewership at Times Now that compelled Mr. Gandhi to choose the network for his interview.

So how did Mr. Gandhi hold up against Mr. Goswami’s pointed questions?

“He comes across as a thinker, with a broad Nehruvian outlook,” said Mr. Ganguli. During the interview, Mr. Gandhi said he wanted to change the system, empower women, deepen democracy, open up politics to the young and make India a world-class manufacturing hub.

But when he fumbled on the more specific questions, Mr.Ganguli said, pointing at Mr. Gandhi’s comments on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Several Congress Party leaders are still on trial on charges of inciting the riots after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

Mr. Goswami asked whether Mr. Gandhi would take responsibility for the 1984 riots. Mr. Gandhi sought to draw a distinction between the Congress government back then and the state government in Gujarat, led by Narendra Modi of the rival Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2002, when nearly 1,000 people died in riots, most of them Muslims.

“The simple difference is that in 1984, the government was not involved in the massacre of people,” said Mr. Gandhi. “In Gujarat, it was.”

He also insisted that the Congress government in 1984 “was not aiding and abetting the riots” but had tried to stop the violence.

Observers took issue with Mr. Gandhi’s take on history. “This was factually wrong. I even tweeted it as the interview was playing out,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, political analyst and senior journalist….

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