New Delhi: It was Rahul Gandhi's first television interview in NDTV this election season, and naturally, there was anticipation. But in spite of targetting Narendra Modi on every second sentence, Rahul fumbled and deviated when asked on BJP's nationalism poll plank. 

Not once, but at least thrice, he conveniently steered away from making his stand clear on an issue that has become the overarching election agenda, particularly since Balakot strike by Indian forces. Sample this.

Rahul simply won't answer.

Q: "But do you think Rahul that this is turning out to be effective given that he is riding on know this high of nationalism, Balakot, the surgical strikes and now this entire Masood Azhar business has happened? Do you think targetting him backfires?"

Rahul: "Look we do it in numbers okay? We do it in numbers. And we do our polling. When we started, when we started, less than 20% though Rafale was an issue, okay? That there's some hanky panky that took place in Rafale. Our numbers are today showing that close to 67% (of) people in India today believe that Rafale was a scam..."

Also read: Faced with facts Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's Rafale bogey goes belly up once again

The question on nationalism was very smoothly steered away from. Now picture this.

Q: "...You are accusing someone of corruption in a defence deal which at the moment as I said is projecting himself and his government as tough with Pakistan, with terrorism. saying Congress is wimping out, no surgical strike happened..."

Rahul: "I am talking to someone who came to power saying I will deliver you two crores jobs a year, I will give farmers right prices, I will give them karza mafi..."

The second time he steered away from answering was when he was asked how Rahul Gandhi hopes to counter the ultra-nationalism plank of Modi. If that wasn't enough, let's look at another question when the interviewee tried asking him the same question.

Q: Well Rahul, you are saying the Prime Minister is no longer able to talk on jobs and so on, fair enough. But don't you believe that the narrative he is giving the people is also working for him, whether it has to do with Pakistan, or to do with Balakot, surgical strike..."

Rahul: No. We work out numbers. The primary issue in the Indian election (is) jobs, jobs, jobs. That's the issue. Economy and jobs, that's the issue..."

Also read — Congress manifesto: Rahul Gandhi peddles UPA’s 2014 job mess as 2019 poll pledge

Modi and nationalism

Modi-led BJP has made nationalism the prime poll plank. So much so while in close proximity to Ayodhya, Modi chose nationalism over Ram Mandir to enthuse the crowd. The message that BJP has sent out quite convincingly is this government is unlike previous ones. 

Every single member from BJP's star campaigners list are out to communicate just one thing to the electorate - for every Uri attack, there will be a surgical strike; for every Pulwama massacre, there will be a bombing at Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, deep inside Pakistan. 

Also read: Congress's 'Saboot' gang makes tall claims about surgical strikes during Manmohan era

Even Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday harped on the same theme. He referred to the response of India under UPA soon after 26/11 happened when dossiers were sent and 25 terrorists released 'within a week' of the ghastly attack. "Everyone now knows how defective India's position was post 26/11 of the former service chiefs said he wanted to strike back, but then Prime Minister had said no. Shahid Latif, a terrorist who was released as (a) goodwill gesture, later on, played a key role in the Pathankot terror attack," said Jaitley. These statements only strengthened the BJP's election narrative of 'chhappan inch ka sina'.

At the end of the much talked about and only TV interview of Rahul Gandhi, the question that begs an answer is why the Congress is shying away from facing the question on nationalism.