By Saanya Gulati:
As I eagerly awaited the “Rahul Gandhi’s television interview with Arnab Goswami” yesterday, along with several others in the country, I could not help but question the considerable media sensation created around this one political interaction. While it may be justified, given that this is the first time Rahul Gandhi has taken on direct questions from the media after his political debut in 2004, the very fact that a potential prime-ministerial candidate in a nearing election has made such little attempt at engagement, is absurd.
In the wired world that we live in, interaction is hardly bound by time or location today. Politicians too have multiple platforms to reach out to the public — and knowingly so, given the several who actively use social and digital media. But for the most, we lack pro-active engagement from politicians.
The good news is that citizens are slowly using social media to engage in the political process, by voicing concerns and expressing their opinions about different candidates and representatives. The reaction to Rahul Gandhi’s interview — #RahulSpeaksToArnab which was trending on both Twitter and Facebook — is telling of this trend.
A fraction of the RaGa interview is enough to tell you that the public’s response was nowhere close to positive. This brings me to the second issue with the nature of political engagement today: engagement should not be for the sake of engagement. As Goswami clearly stated early on, he wanted to be as ‘specific’ as possible. For once, the nation actually wanted to know what lay ahead on Times Now! But the result was disappointing, if not disastrous. I will not rehash details of the interview, but give you the choice of watching it here. Consider it a political comedy.
The reaction of the English-speaking, television viewing audience clearly demonstrates that a part of our public discourse is moving away from the rhetoric of social identities and the politics of appeasement that was perhaps once enough to mobilise people. If you want to empower women, we want to know how you plan to change social mindsets; if you want to increase youth involvement in politics, we want to know how you plan to convince young minds that politics is a viable and attractive career path. We expect leader to deliver on multiple and more material fronts; unfortunately Rahul Gandhi’s answers on Times Now perhaps did more damage to his public image than the several months of silence.
Unfortunately, silence is an acceptable solution to poor quality engagement. A friend’s Facebook status in fact brought up the brilliant idea of an open debate between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, similar to the American concept of presidential debates. Even if India’s political discourse has not reached this level of maturity yet, we need to start somewhere. If Rahul Gandhi’s interview teaches us anything it is that people want to engage, and want more substantial engagement from their political leaders. The choice is now up to our leaders to act on this.