THE BUILD UP:
As one tuned into India Today, the screens flashed ‘Biggest interview of the decade’. Sonia Gandhi was giving her first interview in many years and she was giving it to Rajdeep Sardesai, their consulting editor. To say Sonia Gandhi has been reclusive when it comes to overtly dealing with the fourth estate would be an understatement with only an address to the nation being some form of in front of camera communication.
Many viewers speculated the possible questions which would have been asked. Many probably created a wish list of the questions they would want asked encompassing topics like Demonetisation, the Surgical strike on Pakistan, the separatist protests in Kashmir, the Congress Party’s poor performance in recent elections, Robert Vadra so on. And so it began, the interview was set in the Swaraj Bhavan formerly owned by Motilal Nehru which was the birth place of Indira Gandhi.
The first question thrown by Mr. Sardesai, ‘When did you first meet Indira Gandhi?’ looked a bit odd considering Sonia Gandhi was the one getting interviewed, but could have been plausible considering the proximity of the interview’s date with that of Indira Gandhi’s birth anniversary. It was followed by what was Indira like at home, then what influence did she (Indira) have on her (Sonia’s) politics and life. Flags probably were beginning to be raised in viewers mind about the arc of the interview.
Then he asked Sonia about the allegations that she, Indira, and the rest promoted dynasty politics. Finally it looked like Rajdeep was done easing Sonia in and real question were starting to prop up but again he went, ‘what are the central ideas and values of Indira’, the first response to it by Sonia was, many might have guessed, ‘Secularism’.
One thing led to another and Rajdeep managed to ask as to was Indira practising vote bank politics. If not already clear, Sonia’s response brought the whole interview into perspective. She responded, ‘We are discussing Mrs. Gandhi, and I don’t like to discuss politics’. At another point too when Sonia sensed Rajdeep was drifting away from her set rules, she used the same rebuke.
There surely have been instances where the questions in an interview appeared fixed but in this case the whole topic was pre-decided and no attempt was made to keep this fact under wraps. It was an eulogy to Indira Gandhi, in the words of her daughter-in-law, being asked ultra-soft-ball questions by a friendly face. And all the ‘interview of the decade’ looked like offering was underarm full tosses!
In short, questions were asked to Sonia about Indira and the various aspects of her life which Sonia Gandhi remembered with surprising clarity. Rajdeep’s tone and body language remained extremely docile, supportive and probably sycophantic, completely unlike the one during Smriti Irani’s interview.
It wasn’t the first time Mr Sardesai had interviewed Mrs Gandhi; he did another interview with her back in 2005, when there there were real questions like her reaction to corruption in politics, allegations of her being the real power behind Manmohan Singh, etc. though the tone still remained the same. One thing which remained EXACTLY the same was Rajdeep’s admiration for Sonia, who he said “fought like a Tigress”:
Much like he used to keep saying Rahul Gandhi has “come of age”.
So was the interview only agreed upon after Sonia Gandhi was assured of being asked questions only regarding Indira Gandhi? Did it not violate the “moral compass” of the profession he strives so hard to follow?
Another thing that struck us was Sardesai repeating ‘I ask you this because’ after some questions, did Sardesai desperately tried to justify his logic in order to escape Sonia Gandhi’s displeasure for asking some rare questions that did not follow the pre-decided path?
Was this Sonia Gandhi interview a part of a grander plan of the Congress to promote Indira Gandhi and her image so to benefit the party in upcoming elections? A grand white-wash of Indira Gandhi, and maybe promoting Priyanka Gandhi as the modern Indira Gandhi?
As for the reactions we turned to twitter, many dug up Rajdeep’s old tweets to show him the mirror:
Ever wondered what it would be like if Bal Thackrey was iviewed by Saamna. Now, we know. pic.twitter.com/kmmH91XOkW
— Dhaval Patel (@dhaval241086) November 21, 2016
Thought I’m watching Saas-Bahu serial where saas-bahu having a friendly chat..turned out to be Sonia ji & Rajdeep’s interview #SoniaSpeaksUp
— Paresh Rawal fαи (@Babu_Bhaiyaa) November 21, 2016
What do you have to say about your interview with Sonia Gandhi?
Rajdeep – pic.twitter.com/Luggzg61IQ
— Spamnath Bharti (@attomeybharti) November 21, 2016
One eminent journalist though gave her approval
U may criticise her on some things but undoubtedly sonia remains one of the most graceful netas
— pallavi ghosh (@_pallavighosh) November 21, 2016
Locking Kesri in bathroom, disrespecting PVNR in death, mocking ABV all acts of grace https://t.co/pyFNruafTk
— gab.ai/doubt (@doubtinggaurav) November 21, 2016
And finally, someone at home might not be very happy after such easy questions were asked, as evident by her past record of keeping stringent standards in interviews:
“Charmingly enabling questions”! The Modi years will go down in history as the lowest point for India’s press! https://t.co/6l9tGfxegu
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) September 3, 2016