How difficult was it for you to come out with a book on Rahul Gandhi, the man who does not publicly share his political stand and is also said to be very conservative about his personal life?
It was a difficult exercise because the subject was so inaccessible. I tried at several points to get in touch with him and his office for an interview and for permission to be included in his entourage during the elections, but received no response from him. Finally before the book went to the press – and I mention this in the book – I wrote down all the questions that I had for him and sent them across to him. I faxed the questions, emailed them and also sent a physical copy to his office. I addressed it to him, because I wanted it to reach him and for him to have a look at it and decide whether he wants to respond or not. I received no response right till the end, so for me it was a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle because there were some pieces that we knew and some pieces that we had to guess and some pieces that started to make sense once you looked at them a little more closely. So I would say writing this book was a fairly difficult, but enriching experience.
Your book has been quoted in an article in the Economist magazine... do you agree with their statement that so far Rahul Gandhi has shown no particular aptitude as a politician?
Rahul Gandhi has been working on Uttar Pradesh and to a certain extent Congress has shown signs of reviving itself slowly in Uttar Pradesh. The party increased their vote share in the state by three per cent in the 2012 assembly elections. But if we compare it to the kind of effort, resources and energy that Rahul Gandhi really put into the exercise and how the Congress party projected it as the big opportunity for the party to turn its fortune around, I think it was still a disappointment and there were many things that he could have done right in that campaign which just didn’t work. To that extent I would agree that he hasn’t shown an aptitude in bringing about a change in the fortune of the party, as he had been expected to do.
You mention in your book that the Rahul era is almost inevitable. Why do you think so?
I feel that we are at the cusp of a transformation. The Sonia Gandhi era is slowly giving way to the Rahul era in politics, though lately Sonia Gandhi has been playing a more proactive role within the Congress party. Sonia Gandhi has been unwell and it is a known fact that Rahul is next in line. So one phase in Congress is coming to an end and the other is about to begin. There are signs of it all over. The kind of money, resources and people allocated for the Uttar Pradesh elections are an indication that the UPA government was hoping that Uttar Pradesh will be the springboard from where Rahul will be launched as the next leader. There are those within the party who are pushing him as the prime ministerial candidate for this very term. That is why I say that the Rahul era is inevitable.
But you don't think that Rahul Gandhi has lost an opportunity to emerge as a national leader and has wasted too much time already?
I do feel that for the past eight years he had been putting himself through an apprenticeship, that for some reason he feels he needed to go through. May be he wanted to gain experience, may be he wanted to carve out a nice for himself within the Congress. But I think in the process he has definitely lost the chance that any new comer would have had with the advantage of a Gandhi name. It does not get any better than that if you are newcomer in politics. He could have done so much more with that, rather than focussing on just the revival of the Youth Congress and National Student Union of India (NSUI) or limiting himself to Uttar Pradesh or a couple of other states. So definitely time has been lost and he could have used the opportunity to emerge as a national leader. Congress was hoping in 2004 when he joined politics that maybe within the term of the first government or soon after that he could be projected as the prime ministerial candidate. So yes, he has defiantly lost out on the advantage that he had.
How do you think the media is taking your book – are you receiving bouquets or brickbats for being critical towards Rahul Gandhi?
The book has been just launched and there have been two reviews of the book. So I am still awaiting for either the bouquets or brickbats. My book tries really hard to find a middle ground without taking political positions. The aim is to just look at his work and trying to critically and objectively analyse the positions that Rahul has taken. But especially when it is shown on television media it looks like a pro Rahul effort or an anti-Rahul effort. I have tried really hard to avoid this in the book. I wanted a critical but a balanced book on what Rahul Gandhi’s politics is all about.