The inside story on Rahul's bungled PR fiasco

Blame: Many party leaders are now questioning why Congress leader Rahul Gandhi did not do his home work before his interview

Blame: Many party leaders are now questioning why Congress leader Rahul Gandhi did not do his home work before his interview

It was meant to be an attempt to propel Rahul Gandhi into the league reserved for the Congress party's senior-most leadership.

It was also meant to shatter his image of reticence and present him in the avatar of a man in charge of his destiny.

The party chose a one-on-one interview to make that change apparent. But the attempt backfired terribly, so much so that many within the party believe it may have harmed the Congress vice-president's image irreparably, and that it gave the impression that he doesn't have it in him to lead the nation.

The Congress vice-president sweated throughout the interview, gave vague answers and looked left and right for succour.

He came out uncertain of issues and re-introduced the ghosts of 1984 in an age where constituents have limited appeal or recall of the issue.

No blame game

Sources within the party said that Rahul feels that he cannot be blamed for every issue from the past.

But, his inability to simply say "sorry" allowed the BJP the space to equate 2002 with 1984 and opening the Congress to the charge of openly rioting against the Sikhs.

But how did this PR disaster happen? It was an operation in which very few people were involved.

Top Congress leaders including senior ministers weren't in the loop. His sister Priyanka Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi closely monitored the exercise.

Rahul's closest confidantes, war room specialists, a few MPs and one minister, and the OSD of a senior minister were involved.

Congress debate 

Sources said that the debate in the inner circle raged for days as to who should get to interview Rahul Gandhi first. It boiled down to two anchors from rival television channels.


Ultimately, an old hand in Rahul Gandhi's team was able to convince Priyanka Gandhi and others to choose the one seen the most and perceived to be neutral as well.

What followed is now well-recorded. In an interview that lasted about an hour and half, Rahul failed to answer questions pointedly and often came across as vague or preachy, even though a potential question-bomb in the shape of Robert Vadra went unasked.

Many senior Congress leaders are now questioning why Rahul Gandhi did not do proper home work before the interview.

Sources said that initially Rahul and his family were given feedback that the interview went very well and he had come out like a hero.

But as independent feedback poured in, the family realised the horror of the situation. Such was the shock that an interview of another leading channel was cancelled at the last minute.

Sources said that even the Prime Minister was disappointed with the exercise, even critical of the way it was handled by the team involved.

Sources also said that the PMO too had been left out of the entire plan. The Congress communications head Ajay Maken's phone remained unavailable for 24 hours after the interview.

His media team fell short of words to explain what happened. The exercise to open up Rahul Gandhi to the world also showed the economy of information from Rahul Gandhi's own office, which is seen as feudal and secretive in nature.

Meeting Rahul Gandhi becomes an act of espionage and subterfuge. One can only listen but not publish a word, a standard practice followed by his office for the past 10 years.

Flawed strategy

Though it has been decided that this media outreach programme wouldn't be abandoned mid-way and Rahul Gandhi would continue to engage with the media, analysts say fundamentally the strategy is flawed.

The real deal for Rahul would be to prove himself all over again in front of aggressive anchors that he has it in him to lead the party in its toughest hour.

The missed opportunity

By Jatin Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi's recent sit-down interview on TV might have caused more problems for his own image and the Congress than it set out to solve.

His admission that "some Congressmen were probably involved" in the anti-Sikh violence of 1984, that followed his grandmother's assassination, has put the Congress on the backfoot.

Questioned: Rahul appeared unsure of himself throughout the interview

Questioned: Rahul appeared unsure of himself throughout the interview

Rival political parties were quick to keep the party there. BJP MLAs staged a protest followed by a demonstration by Sikh groups outside 24 Akbar Road the next day.

After harping on the "framework on anti-corruption" in his speeches, Rahul came out looking like a shifty politician when asked about the specifics of what he would do in matters concerning former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and current Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, both Congressmen.

He gave the standard law-would-take-its- course reply.

The Congress was hoping to give it back to the opposition on corruption charges in the coming days.

The original plan was to launch the attack as soon as there is any forward movement on the six pending Bills against corruption in Parliament session next week, which Rahul has been showcasing as the party's multi-pronged approach to combat corruption.

Appearing in his first TV interview after nearly a decade, Rahul failed to avail the opportunity to show that his vision for India is not just a bundle of abstract ideas.

Sonia attacks BJP and Modi

By Vanu Dev

Attacking the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday accused them of indulging in divisive politics by sowing seeds of poison (zeher ki kheti) and instigating violence for political gains.

Though she did not make any specific mention of any incident, addressing a massive rally in North Karnataka's Gulbarga town, Sonia cautioned the people of the nation to be "cautious about the Opposition parties' plans to gain power by any means."

On the trail: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at a Congress rally in north Karnataka's Gulbarga town

On the trail: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at a Congress rally in north Karnataka's Gulbarga town

Referring to Gulbarga as the region that pioneered Sufism, she added: "This is an area, which was the 'karmabhoomi' of Sufi saints and a symbol of composite culture of the country.

"I am of the firm belief that you will not allow those who sow the seeds of poison, indulge in divisive politics, do not believe in secular principles and play politics of inciting violence to succeed."

Sonia went on against Modi in particular chiding his publicity campaign.

"Those who are busy beating their own drums continuously, I want to ask you whether they will do any good to the nation.

"Their only aim is to capture power and to achieve it they will resort to all sorts of conspiracies. You have to wary of these people and understand their intentions."

She pointed out that the Congress, unlike the BJP, was concerned about the welfare of the people and never craved for power.

"We are concerned about fostering brotherhood and maintaining peace in society. Therefore, we are in a position to speed up development. The Congress is engaged in fighting corruption and therefore the RTI Act and Lok Pal," she said.

Maken and Kamat offer seats for primaries

A day after Union ministers Kapil Sibal and Krishna Tirath apparently showed unhappiness over their constituencies being chosen to be among those in which Rahul Gandhi's "primaries" experiment is to be carried out, Ajay Maken and Gurudas Kamat offered their own.

A set of 16 constituencies had been chosen for the experiment in which local party workers and voters would be asked to choose their candidate for Lok Sabha polls.


Dropped: The seats of Union ministers Kapil Sibal (left) and Krishna Tirath (right) were initially included in the list of primaries but have been dropped now

Sibal and Tirath's seats, both in Delhi, were dropped from the list. Maken is also a Delhi MP, whereas Kamat represents a Mumbai seat.

The first ground-level elections for candidates are to be held in Kolkata and Guwahati later this month.

The local party units will nominate candidates and voters will be asked to choose from them to send for the election.

Several layers of the party's functionaries will be involved in the "primaries", which are an adaptation from the US presidential election system.