Shailesh Kapoor: Rahul Gandhi and We, the Interview-Starved Nation

31 Jan,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


Rahul Gandhi’s interview on Times Now, telecast first on Monday, has dominated the news landscape this week. Rival channels too were forced to cover the interview extensively (without video footage), given its importance in the year of the General Elections and also the reactions some of Gandhi’s comments evoked, especially those on the 1984 and 2002 riots in Delhi and Gujarat respectively.


Much has been written about how dysfunctional the interview was, given that most answers did not match the questions they were answers to. As an exercise, I read the transcript, published in The Times Of India on Tuesday, in a read-a-random-question-and-then-read-a-random-answer way, and it made no less sense than the original transcript read in sequence.


It would have clearly been Rahul Gandhi’s decision to do a big TV interview. I think he was ill-advised about the journalist he should choose for it. When you have nothing specific to say, Arnab Goswami is the last person you want around you. With no room given to explicate, Gandhi’s ideas came across as inward and theoretical, than pragmatic and action-oriented.


But what has fascinated me about the interview is the ability of one interview to generate so much commercial media and social media talk, especially when nothing new was said in it anyway. It is not difficult to understand the frenzy. All you need to think is: When did I last see a proper, classical interview on television in India?


My attempt to answer that question was rather embarrassing. All I could think of was Koffee With Karan interviews, Bollywood interviews on a dozen Zoom-like channels, sportsperson interviews and Arvind Kejriwal. A few corporate bigwigs (Ratan Tata) and foreign leaders (Aung San Suu Kyi) from recent times then came to mind. And that was the end of my interview recall.


Most Bollywood interviews are not even interviews. They are casual chats, often with a limited purpose, like promoting a film. The reluctance of the political class to give interviews (not counting short chats with journalists used to clarify their position on an issue) is well known.


In 2012, Narendra Modi walked out of a Karan Thapar interview in the first three minutes, unhappy with persistent questioning on the 2002 riots (Video). Prabhu Chawla, one of the most seasoned journalists of our times, had a tough time getting political heavyweights on his immensely popular show Seedhi Baat, and had to resort to entertainment celebs (all the way to Rakhi Sawant) to keep the show running.


The reluctance of the political elite here seems to be a curious mix of arrogance and insecurity. Arrogance that makes them feel they are not answerable to people at large, and insecurity arising out of lack of confidence, in their work or speech or both. That it has happened over almost three decades now is another testimony to the well-accepted fact that we don’t have visionary leaders anymore.


Much as Rahul Gandhi made a joke of himself on the interview that he was hoping to use to build his image, some credit must be given to him for at least exploring the idea of an interview.


Many channels have been sending covert and overt feelers to political parties for a US-Presidential-style televised debate ahead of the General Elections, between Modi and Gandhi. It’s just wishful thinking. Even if we get Modi to give an 80-minute interview like Gandhi, we would have come a long way in breaking the tradition of media snub that senior politicians have mastered in this country.


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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