Rahul Gandhi's first TV interview falls short of expectations

In this photograph taken on Dec 21, 2013, Indian National Congress (INC) Vice President Rahul Gandhi addresses the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)'s 86th Annual General Meeting in New Delhi. Rahul Gandhi's first full-le
In this photograph taken on Dec 21, 2013, Indian National Congress (INC) Vice President Rahul Gandhi addresses the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)'s 86th Annual General Meeting in New Delhi. Rahul Gandhi's first full-length interview with an Indian television channel since joining politics a decade ago did little to flesh out his public persona, with many saying the Gandhi scion fell short of expectations.-- FILE PHOTO: AFP

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's first full-length interview with an Indian television channel since joining politics a decade ago did little to flesh out his public persona, with many saying the Gandhi scion fell short of expectations.

Others however praised him for taking on a tough interview ahead of the elections.

Mr Gandhi did, however, come out swinging against his political rival Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, who is ahead in opinion polls.

In the interview with English television channel TimesNow, Mr Gandhi said he was not scared of Mr Modi and attacked Mr Modi's handling of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, which left hundreds dead.

"The government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further," Mr Gandhi said.

The Congress party is banking on Mr Gandhi, who is the face of the party going into elections, to lead the Congress to a third victory in the general elections due within four months.

Mr Gandhi said he wanted to democratise India's closed political system and defended his government's record on economic and social policies.

The Hindu newspaper declared in a headline "Rahul's `interview of the year'' will have disappointed supporters".

In an accompanying piece, the newspaper Mr Gandhi said "avoided the issue of Hindu nationalism and provided few details of his party's agenda." The Telegraph newspaper called Mr Gandhi "the least understood politician".

Mr Gandhi, who has been in politics for a decade, took on the leadership of the party at a time when the Congress-led government is particularly unpopular, hit by a series of corruption scandals, a slowing economy and an outpouring of middle class anger over corruption and violence towards women.

Over the last couple of months Mr Gandhi, who had earlier shied away from the media and from public speaking, has been more engaging, speaking at public forums.

Political analysts said the interview was another attempt to build Mr Gandhi's image.

"But he has become even more enigmatic after this interview. There are so many unanswered questions and contradictions. For instance he says I don't believe in dynasty but it is my compulsion to lead," said Uttar Pradesh based political analyst Sudhir Panwar.

Still, journalist Tunku Varadarajan said in a tweet, "All said and done, that was brave of Rahul Gandhi... How many Indian PM candidates have offered themselves up for prime time interview?"

If nothing else, Mr Gandhi did put to rest speculation about his education. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy had questioned Mr Gandhi's education qualification, saying he had never gone to Cambridge.

Mr Gandhi said he had a Masters degree in Philosphy from Trinity College, Cambridge.

"You want me to show you my degree, I can show you my degree," he told interviewer Arnab Goswami, who is known for his hard-hitting style.

gnirmala@sph.com.sg