In the dog-eat-dog world of politics, social etiquettes are rarely polite codes of conduct. A hug (ask Arvind Kejriwal and Lalu Prasad Yadav), a handshake or even a smile between netas may carry deep import — even when perfectly innocuous — and unleash a tsunami of reactions and counter-reactions.
With words like 'psychopath', 'coward', and 'liar' being increasingly used as exchanges between politicians, the language has become so vitiated that the bar for accepted social behavior in Indian politics has become abysmally low.
So when Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee greeted each other on New Year — two leaders from two different ends of the political spectrum — it created a much-needed moment of warmth in our political discourse and was a welcome change from the rabid, venomous language that is now the norm.
"Received very touching new year greetings from (Mamata Banerjee) & that too in Gujarati! I thank Mamata Didi & wish her a great 2016," Modi tweeted on Wednesday from his personal handle. Not be outdone by the Prime Minister in anything, including courtesy, the Bengal Chief Minister replied shortly: "Glad you liked the New Year greetings I sent you in Gujarati. Thanks too @narendramodi ji for the greetings you sent me in Bengali".
Glad you liked the New Year greetings I sent you in Gujarati. Thanks too @narendramodi ji for the greetings you sent me in Bengali
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) January 20, 2016
Received very touching New Year greetings from @MamataOfficial ji & that too in Gujarati! I thank Mamata Didi & wish her a great 2016.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 20, 2016
The fact that the exchange took place in Gujarati and Bengali made it even warmer, slightly too warm in fact for the Trinamool Congress who saw in the PM's tweeting a cynical attempt to politicise a personal message.
Leaders routinely greet people or even their political rivals on occasions such as the New Year. Pictures and anecdotes abound of politicians, cutting across party lines, schmoozing during power weddings, such as the one recently when Union minister Arun Jaitley's daughter got married.
If Modi and Mamata exchanged greetings with each other, why have Trinamool leaders caught a cold?
Once upon a time, Mamata Banerjee's TMC was even part of NDA. Is the discomfort a fallout of the recent spat between the two parties over the violence in Malda?
According to a TMC Lok Sabha MP, Modi's message was "loud and clear", says The Telegraph. "He wants to make a public display of a non-existent political intimacy to suit his ends," the MP said.
Why such a vehement reaction for what was essentially polite social behavior?
The answer lies in West Bengal's demography and what TMC perceives it to be its core vote bank.
For a party which has its hopes pinned firmly on the 27 per cent minority votes in the upcoming assembly polls in April-May, even stepping on the shadow of Narendra Modi could prove to be suicidal, leave alone exchanging personal greetings.
Ever since she came to power in Bengal, and especially in the run-up to the Assembly Polls, Mamata Banerjee has assiduously courted this vote bank.
For the first time in her political career, Mamata last November spoke at a mega rally organised by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, one of the largest organisations of Bengali-speaking Muslims which controls over 1,000 madrasas in the state.
Now if a perception is created so close to the polls that there is a growing bonhomie between BJP and TMC, the ramparts of power in Bengal will shake in consternation and the heavens will come crashing down.
When it comes to politics, greeting your rival for the new year could be a tricky business.