Rahul Gandhi`s second interview – a marked improvement

Since I had critiqued Rahul Gandhi’s first TV interview in my previous blog, it is only fair that I discuss his next one too (with PTI). So, what’s the general verdict? Unlike the previous interview, this one was a non-event. Not much has been written or talked about the interview. However, if one were to go by the limited coverage that it received, it has been a decent success, especially when compared to the first one.

Unlike the first interview, the objective of this one seemed to be clear: to do some damage control. His responses to the contentious questions that he faltered answering the first time round, showed a marked improvement. Though the answers seemed rehearsed, there was no other way they could have been, given the controversial and sensitive nature of the questions. It seems the media planners of Rahul Gandhi did their homework this time by giving him a list of frequently asked questions and expected answers before the interview.

Rahul’s responses to questions related to the upcoming elections, or the exalted power that he wielded on his party, or his poor show in Parliament, or his future in politics, were quite impressive though non-committal. Rahul tactfully showcased some of his government’s achievements, cleared some misconceptions like whether he was in for the long haul, and countered some allegations like how he was being hypocritical by criticising the very system that made him what he was. He even went to the extent of acknowledging his mistakes by talking about the absence of elections in the selection of members of the CWC, or the way he expressed his dissent over the Ordinance related to convicted lawmakers, and more significantly, his refusal to apologise for the 1984 Sikh riots.

Clearly, the end objective of any interview now has to be to garner maximum votes in the upcoming general elections. However, Rahul Gandhi is perhaps trying to ensure a dignified defeat for his party, as defeat seems imminent. This interview serves the objective aptly as not only does it undo some of the damage done the previous time, it also addresses some of the questions plaguing the public at large.

Who was the target audience this time around? Given the choice of medium, the setting, the casual western clothing and the language, it seems this time around also he was targeting the urban population. Nothing wrong with that though his media planners need to reach a wider audience, especially given the sheer numbers that the rural population has.

Unlike the last time, Rahul did justice to the duration of the interview as a wide range of issues were addressed and some concrete answers were given. So, what were the takeaways from this interview? First, that Rahul is trying and is improving. Second, that yet again he did not come up with any actionable items. He really needs to work on the latter as his arch rival, Narendra Modi, talks about concrete steps and plans. Having a vision is fine, but the nation does not need lectures anymore. It needs results, or at least a promise of results.

Rahul’s media planners played it very smart this time. They did not publicize this interview much, given the fiasco the first one was. Perhaps, they wanted to test the waters first. Since Rahul did show marked improvement this time around, the media planners could have done some publicity post the interview. If the interview had been a disaster, they could have kept quiet, but his current performance merited some tom-toming. They need to understand that had it not gone well, his opponents would have left no stone unturned to criticize him. However, for praise, they have nobody but themselves to depend upon.

One mistake that Rahul’s media planners have made this time is the huge gap between two interviews. Why did it take Rahul almost two months to give the second interview? In fact, given the current volatility and uncertainty in the political arena, he should be giving one interview every week or two. The medium of communication and the target audience can keep changing so as to ensure a judicious mix.

Over all, Rahul’s second attempt has been fairly successful if compared to the first one, but much more needs to be done if he really wants to impact the voter. With less than two months to the elections, Rahul cannot afford to continue to act at the slow pace that he currently is. He and his party need to worry not about action, but inaction. The next interview cannot afford to wait for more than a week. Is anybody from the Congress listening?

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)

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