Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rahul Gandhi, Arnab Goswami & The Big Grapefruit Interview

About half of the journalists who cover the White House in Washington DC are from the American media. There is a belief that each one of them gets up every morning with the conviction that the government was going to lie to them before sundown. The American media is relatively independent and objective because its members cultivate two important traits: a measure of healthy scepticism and irreverence towards people in authority.

However there is another aspect to American journalism. It is the planted question, and its cousin, the grapefruit. As an aside, a planted question asked in a parliamentary debate in Australia is called a Dorothy Dixer.

In American media parlance, a grapefruit is a seemingly tough question (a journalist asks during the course of an interview) but is in fact a scripted favour to the politician being interviewed. It is like a slow ball bowled in a cricket match which lands near the batsman’s feet. He can simply smash it beyond the ropes.

The planted question, the Dorothy Dixer or the grapefruit serves the same purpose: promoting one’s party’s policies and programmes and criticizing the opposition. Although George Bush, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been known to have used the ‘planted question’ technique in their campaigns, there is a perception in the West that it is more common in India. Bhagyashree Garekar of the Singapore Straits Times told John Dickerson, it was a common practice in India. See the penultimate paragraph of this article: HillaryClinton gets snared by a planted question

But the devices are usually employed as a small component – usually one or two questions in the question and answer session at the end of a speech or in a parliamentary debate or one question in an impromptu interview with a politician. Can you imagine a whole interview being stage-managed; or to put it simply the whole interview being a grapefruit? But that was what exactly Arnab Goswamy’s interview with Rahul Gandhi was! See its full text here: Rahul Gandhi'sfirst interview: Full text

Max Atkinson, a UK based communications expert says that news interviewers are paid to be neutral’. He goes on to say that appearing to take sides can get them into serious trouble’. It sounds surprising, doesn’t it? But Atkinson is talking about the media in Britain, not India. Atkinson suggests that the solution to compel evasive politicians answer difficult questions is to conduct the interview in front of an audience. If only Atkinson knew how the Barkha Dutts, Rajdeep Sardesais and Sagarika Ghoses conduct their interviews in front of studio audiences!

One expected Arnab Goswami who breathes fire, screams and shrieks, on his primetime show to be persistent with his questions, to pin down Rahul to take positions and at least seek to answer some pertinent questions. Instead Arnab served Rahul the biggest grapefruit that one can imagine, by querying about Narendra Modi and flogging the dead horse of Gujarat 2002. Atkinson would be surprised to know that Indian news interviewers who would be neutral on the subject of Narendra Modi are a rarity. Here is how Rahul’s view of the Sikh genocide of 1984 in which his father had a hand compares with the communal riots of 2002:

In 1984, RahulG was 13. Yet, he knew that ‘the government was trying to stop the riots’. In 2002, he was 31 but he heard that ‘the government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further’.

Rahul Gandhi’s inability to frame his replies in grammatically correct English, though he was presumably educated in England, is not a major issue:

I like difficult to tough issues. I like dealing with them.

Yes, we will be specific but if I would like to sort of explain things in a broader fashion, I think that will okay with you.

I think probably the Sikhs are one of the industrious people in this country.

What is surprising is his mendacity about the process of electing a prime minister, especially by the Congress party. By the by, Rahul utters the word ‘process 29 times in the interview; ‘issue’ 47 times, ‘RTI’ 71 times and ‘system’ 74 times!

Rahul of course doesn’t want to lose an opportunity to plug in his family history, especially the poignant aspects of it (‘as a child, he saw his grandmother jailed and later assassinated; and his father assassinated’). Then there is the invocation of Arjuna (‘he only sees one thing, he does not see anything else’)!

What does one make of this sentence: ‘I am here basically for one thing, I see tremendous energy in this country, I see more energy in this country than any other country, I see billions of youngsters and I see this energy is trapped’?

Here is a gem: because the judiciary and the press are not under the RTI, political parties should not be brought under the RTI as that ‘changes the balance of power’! He is however candid about one thing: in our parliamentary system as it stands today ‘an MLA or an MP does not make laws. He merely presses buttons.

This is how Rahul perceives how the economy works: ‘We are working on prices, as I said we have spoken to our Chief Ministers and we have reduced prices in states where we are in power.’

The nation certainly wants to know what Rahul proposes to do to grapple with the myriad problems the nation faces: spiraling inflation, unemployment, billowing current account deficit et al. The nation would want to know how he would deal with hostile neighbours like Pakistan and China; how he would tackle terrorism and what he intends doing to resolve a number of other problems that befuddle the nation. Sadly the net take away from the interview was that it veered our national political debate away from these questions and bringing Gujarat 2002 back to the centre stage. And that was the grapefruit that Arnab gifted to Rahul!


  1. One would wonder as to instigated Rahul to appear for this non event .
    He seems to have created problems not only for him but the congress party at large.
    Does he realise as to how many votes has he deprived congress of after his interview.?

    1. Thank you Chowlaji, for your comment.

      From a report in ‘DNA’, it appears the interview was arranged by Rahul Gandhi's PR agencies, Genesis Burson-Marsteller and IPAN (Hill and Knowlton). The same report also says that his sister Priyanka and Minister Jairam Ramesh accompanied him to Times Now and prompted him through the interview. See this: "Jairam Ramesh and Priyanka prompted Rahul Gandhi from behind the camera during the recording of interview": http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-jairam-ramesh-and-priyanka-prompted-rahul-gandhi-from-behind-the-camera-during-the-recording-of-interview-1958187

  2. Guess who are the top 10 well dressed politicians of India

    Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJYjez4RiaE