Just minutes before the cameras rolled, senior Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh is seen briefing Rahul Gandhi for one last time while Ajay Maken stands nearby, putting up a fake smile and extending a glass of water every time the Gandhi scion turns his head nonchalantly towards him and noticing neither his smile nor the glass.
Arnab Goswami finally walks into the hall with his make up in place and the trademark samosa knot of his tie shining through. As the lights are adjusted and camera man starts reversing in 5-4-3-2-1, sister Priyanka gives one final thumps-up to her brother from behind the crew. The biggest political interview of independent India is now underway:
Arnab Goswami (AG): Rahul, thank you very much. It’s great to have you on Frankly Speaking. It’s been ten years as an MP for you… (Rahul looks up at the ceiling, while counting on his fingertips) and it’s your first interview? What took you so long?
Rahul Gandhi (RG): Well…I’ve always believed that patience is virtue, and virtue is grace, and grace was the name of the girl I fell in love with as a child. (pops out a dimpled smile)
AG: Mr. Gandhi, I have a request for you to be as specific as possible with your answers. Do I have your agreement on this?
RG: Well, of course, in a democracy everyone has the right to agree to disagree.
AG: Let me ask you a direct question then – are you scared to take on Narendra Modi one on one?
RG: If you try to understand what Rahul Gandhi is, you’ll know what Rahul Gandhi is scared of and what he’s not.
AG: May I ask you why are you addressing yourself in 3rd person?
RG: Because it helps me take an objective view of myself.
AG: Well, taking an objective view, tell me how is Mr. Modi in 2002 any different from your late father in 1984?
RG: My father is different because he brought computers to India. And that is a fact nobody can deny. In my opinion, he was the Steve Jobs India never had!
AG: Why are you evading my question?
RG: Rahul Gandhi doesn’t evade questions. Who do you think brought the RTI?
AG: Ok, if you don’t wanna be specific, then you leave me no choice but ask you unsparingly direct questions. How do you justify your father’s comment, ‘When a big tree falls, earth shakes’?
RG: It’s wrong to call it a comment. It is Newton’s unstated fourth law of motion.
AG: Would you care to expound on that?
RG: You see Arnab, I didn’t compare my dad to Steve Jobs for nothing. Newton discovered that when earth shakes, apple falls. This discovery later inspired Jobs to found Apple Inc. which in turn inspired my dad to re-draw the analogy and express what Newton always wanted mankind to discover but never stated it explicitly. Very few people have the intellectual curiosity to acknowledge scientific occurrences the way my father used to. By saying ‘when a tree falls, earth shakes’, he has simply upheld the Fundamental Duty in Article 51 A of our constitution that seeks development of scientific thinking and spirit of inquiry.
AG: He said, ‘when a BIG tree falls…’ clearly he implied something more to it than just scientific thinking when he said ‘big’.
RG: That’s just an adjective. You are reading too much into it.
AG: Are you sure it’s just an adjective?
RG: I think so! Well, it could it be an adverb or pronoun as well…I don’t know frankly.
AG: Mr. Gandhi, your education credentials have been a matter of great speculation. You say you’ve been to Cambridge. I was myself a visiting fellow at Cambridge for a short while. I distinctly remember the Economics Professor there had a notorious German shepherd which everyone on campus would make nasty jokes about. Mr. Gandhi, the nation wants to know today that if you really spent a year in Cambridge, whether you can recite one of those jokes or at least the name of that dog?
RG (takes a long pause with a dimpled smile): It was not a dog. It was actually a bitch.
AG: What was her name?
RG: That’s not the point. You need to look at the bigger picture…
AG: What was her name?
RG: Her name is not important. What is important is her empowerment. How safe she feels walking around the campus in Cambridge.
AG: Mr. Gandhi, the nation demands to know her name..!! Please tell me the name if you know it.
RG: Senorita… I used to call her that.
AG (gets up and shouts): Mr. Maken, please stop whispering answers to Mr. Gandhi from behind his chair and come outside. You may not like to hear this but our cameras can clearly catch your words and even a part of your behind which is protruding from sides of the chair.
Coming back to the interview, Mr. Gandhi, tell me what is your stand on India’s policy on Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan?
Well, the Congress party has a very clear and well-defined policy on Kashmir. I believe that when you choose Pervez Rasool for the Indian cricket team and then make him sit on the bench for the whole series
, you are playing with fire.
AG: What’s that got to do with Kashmir?
RG: Everything! To stake our claim, we need to play Rasool before Pakistan plays him in its eleven.
AG: Interesting… Cricket diplomacy?
RG (looks at the camera with dimpled smile): No, I call it inclusive diplomacy. It’s all about empowering the youth, opening the system and increasing the LPG cylinders from 9 to 12.
AG: And that’s your Kashmir policy?
AG: Including the LPG cylinders bit?
AG: You have completed ten years in politics, Mr. Gandhi. What do you think is your biggest achievement so far?
RG (Long pause with a dimpled smile)
AG: Mr. Gandhi?
AG: If you were to pick your biggest achievement so far, would it be – (a) 2009 UPA victory, (b) your first parliamentary speech or (c) the famous tearing down of the ordinance?
RG: Between these three options, it has to be the RTI.
AG: But I didn’t even say RT…
RG: You see, if Rahul Gandhi’s father was Steve Jobs, Rahul Gandhi is the Larry Page. My father brought us computers, I am bringing search results to the common man. We are creating an ecosystem here.
AG: So this is the ‘system’ you’ve been speaking so frequently about?
AG: But Mr. Gandhi on one hand you talk so emphatically about the ‘system’, on the other hand, your critics accuse you of diminishing the stature of the Prime Minister’s Office by ridiculing his cabinet decision in public. They say you’ve downgraded and lowered the position of PMO.
RG: I don’t think so. In fact, I’m the one who has always advocated that the PMO be uplifted from the South Block to the North Block. So the accusation of lowering the PMO is laughable.
AG: Mr. Gandhi, with this we come to the last leg of your interview, and it’s called the rapid fire round. So brace yourself for these quickies.
RG (Big smile): Wow! Just like that Karan Johar show! Do I get a coffee hamper too?
AG: Sorry, you need at least two people to contest for the hamper. You’re solo today.
RG: Duh… Anyways, go ahead..shoot!
AG: Do you think Ashok Chavan and Akshok Kumar are the same guys?
RG: Can’t say for sure…but an RTI inquiry can tell you that.
AG: And what about Pervez Rasool and Rasool Pookutty?
RG: Do I need to say it again? Do your RTI
AG: Do you yourself know how information is sought through RTI and how the whole process works?
RG: Again, you can use the RTI to find out how the RTI works.
AG: What if RTI were actually a private start-up founded by you? Given its popularity, do you think it could have been a bigger IPO success than even Facebook and Twitter?
RG: Now that’s a tricky one! I think I am gonna personally put this query to RTI this time. Makenji, can you start working on the paper work as soon as the interview is over? Thanks.
Rahul Gandhi looks at the camera for a split second and smiles.
AG: You know Mr. Gandhi, I have met some funny guys in my life but you’ve been quite a revelation today. I’m a very serious journalist and have tried my best to draw you back to specifics by asking straight, direct questions. And I must say that you did exceedingly well in taking them on. It has been a long interview and I wont be surprised if your throat has dried up. Would you like some water?
RG: I want a Pepsi!