Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to give his first major television interview to Times Now was driven by the perception in the Congress top-rung that the channel had the highest TRPs in the English-language news segment. The decision to pick the channel over its rival NDTV, which was earlier promised the first interview, was taken at a meeting last week, attended by key members of Gandhi’s core group, including his sister Priyanka.
The interview, aired on Monday, is part of a strategy to keep Gandhi in the headlines and use the media to ‘market’ the party’s achievements in the run-up to the polls.
“The turning point was December 8 and the rout in the state assembly elections. Instead of shielding him from the media, there was a need to expose him to it,” said a party source involved in the campaign. In his interview on Monday, when asked about the reluctance to engage with the media, Gandhi said that he had held press conferences before, and dismissed the suggestion that he wanted to avoid difficult, tough issues.
In the last 45 days, Gandhi spoke briefly on the assembly results, issued a statement outlining his stance on the Section 377 judgement, pushed for the Lokpal bill at a party presser, and took along a reporter to relief camps in riot-hit Muzaffarnagar. He also held off-the-record talks with senior editors, bureau chiefs and beat reporters.
But the big change has been his willingness to give formal interviews. As part of this shift, Gandhi spoke to Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, which has a substantial reach in the Hindi heartland. His second was to Times Now, which has a sizeable middle-class viewership. NDTV sources confirmed that the Congress was in talks with the channel, and the interview had been locked in on two occasions. But ‘scheduling issues’ were cited to call it off. Times Now was then picked because of its higher TRPs.
A party source said, “We gathered that the channel had wider viewership, and also wanted to send out a message that our leader was willing to take on an aggressive questioner. But we have told other media houses they can put in their requests and we will consider it.”