Rahul Gandhi's hug to Modi a political statement, not an expression of love; the wink gave his game away

Rahul Gandhi's hug to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi wasn't an impromptu, spur-of-the-moment act. Much less was it an expression of love or respect for his fierce adversary. The "jhappi" (hug), in fact, was a well-calculated political statement, aimed at substantiating Congress' narrative against the BJP and set 'brand Rahul' apart from 'brand Modi'.

Through the physical act of a hug, the Congress president was trying to send across an ideological message, that instead of "anger and hatred", that are part of BJP's ideology, Congress believes in making peace and respecting even its opponents.

At another level, it was a bravura performance aimed at stealing Modi's thunder, because Rahul knows that the prime minister is an excellent orator and will make a lasting impression through his speech, which will be the final act of the day of high drama in Parliament.

Rahul Gandhi interacts with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his speech in Lok Sabha on Friday. PTI

Rahul Gandhi interacts with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his speech in Lok Sabha on Friday. PTI

So, the Congress president was trying to beat the prime minister at his own game, and that too by using Modi's signature move.

A lot of thinking seems to have been put in to make the hug appear "unrehearsed" and "impulsive", because the success of the move depended on its spontaneity.

The Congress, which has vastly improved its social media game from the amateurish attempts of 2014, also knew that this "jhappi" (unprecedented in Indian Parliament) will become the immediate talking point, and more importantly, will stay that way for a few news cycles.

They were banking on it going viral on social media, triggering conversations and launching a thousand memes and jokes. Not all of it might be complimentary, but it doesn't need to be, because it will ensure the one thing that Rahul craves for – to pilfer attention on a day which was largely thought to be the official launch of Modi's 2019 campaign before a captive, nationwide audience.

The act itself of trudging across to treasury benches and hugging the prime minister might make a mockery of parliamentary rules, decorum and regulations, but it ensures that for once, people will keep talking about Rahul instead of Modi.

The 'hug' is also sure to have a longer shelf-life in mainstream media, where Congress enjoys more clout through its invisible ecosystem, and there will be enough op-eds stretched through weeks applauding Rahul's "large-heartedness" and magnanimity. One has to admit that it was a political masterstroke.

As soon as the Congress president ended his speech, the party and its alliance partners started implementing the second part of "hug-strategy". MPs were seen declaring solemnly before the media how it was a "moment of inspiration" from the Congress president, that sets him and the party apart from BJP's 'hateful ideology' that uses terms like "Pappu" to describe their political opponents.

Congress spokespersons were also at pains to insist that Rahul's "act of love" for his adversary is reflective of "true Hinduism" in contrast with BJP's "angry Hindutva". This is significant because, towards the end of his speech, Rahul harped on the "Hindu" theme to prove his religious credentials to ensure that Congress shakes off the 'Muslim party' tag and reclaims the 'Hindu' space.

So far, Rahul's game was top notch. The 'hug' did its job. It took even the prime minister by surprise who quickly regained composure, clasped his hands and patted Rahul on the back. Rahul had the TV, headlines and the internet. What could go wrong?

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It did, and for it, the Congress president has no one but himself to blame. Soon after he had taken his seat in the Parliament after completing the speech and the hug, cameras caught Rahul winking at his colleagues. It gave the game away.

The Congress president may not have thought that the cameras would be alert enough to catch his one fleeting moment of indiscretion. The damage, however, was done. If he had made some "gains" by successfully pulling a stunt with the hug, the unguarded 'wink' nullified those gains. It carried an impression of a satisfied performer pleased at his presentation, and immediately made him look insincere and made the hug appear a calculated move, not an impromptu act of love.

The wink in itself could be taken as a harmless, if not mischievous, gesture. But here, in the context of the hug that preceded it, it pulled Rahul down from his high moral ground and showed him for what he is – an elitist who looks down upon those around him and uses human expressions of love (such as a hug) to serve political ends.

The anatomy of a hug and the wink exposes Rahul as an immature politician who, for all his rehearsals, cannot still perform a flawless act.

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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2018 17:48 PM

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