Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s debut television interview has sparked a debate within the party. Except his close advisors, who believe that he put up an impressive show on Monday, many party leaders and campaign managers feel the event may have dented the party’s image in urban India, and among the middle class, even further.
A file photo of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during an election campaign in Sultanpur. (PTI photo)
There is a subsequent blame-game about who is responsible. But despite adverse reactions, Gandhi plans to continue with his public and media outreach.
A party source involved in the campaign admitted, “The interview has damaged us. Constituents are calling up MPs, particularly those elected from the big cities, to say they are disappointed. The media cell has got critical feedback after the screening. Even our supporters on the social media have not come out in full support.”
Read: Rahul Gandhi accuses Modi govt of 'abetting' 2002 riots
Responding to the criticism, a Congress minister told HT that this was ‘indicative of the collapse of the party’s media department’. “Nowhere does a leader give an 80-minute interview. The standard format is 22 minutes. It was the job of the media department to prepare the leader, plan it out, and provide the right spin.”
He insisted that Gandhi had come out looking ‘honest, sincere, and well-meaning’. “He is not a professional spokesperson. If the optics weren’t right, it is not his fault.”
But this is rubbished by other party insiders, who point out that the media cell had no role in Rahul Gandhi’s choice of the channel or interview format.
A political source, who insisted on remaining anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, “We lost an opportunity in reaching out to our support-base. 20 crore Muslims in the country look to Congress for protection and all he said was Gujarat happened, and people died.” There is also a debate on whether the party scion should have opted for a Hindi news channel for his debut.
Read: The Rahul Gandhi interview that wasn’t, at times
Another leader, again on the condition of anonymity, said this was a reflection of a larger battle. “There are some who are skeptical of Rahul’s abilities. Their opinion has got reinforced. But his supporters believe he did a great job.”
Gandhi’s core team has drawn up a schedule to give interviews to different channels every seven-to-ten days. It is learnt NDTV could be next in line, for an interview to be screened next week.
Read: Full text of Rahul Gandhi's interview
“Retreating into a shell is no option. He needs to rectify the damage by projecting his views more consistently and forcefully,” said a mid-level leader who has worked with Gandhi.
Full Coverage: Rahul Gandhi, taking the lead