“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s image recovery started with his outing at University of California, Berkeley, followed by the impressive campaigns in Gujarat and Karnataka. He gave another demonstration of his ‘image recovery’ (read political maturity) in Lok Sabha on Fridaylast when a debate was going on the Opposition-moved no confidence motion against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. Finally, on Friday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proved he still had the numbers in the Lok Sabha. But, it was the Congress’ president, Rahul Gandhi who stole the show. Gandhi had come prepared on Friday which was evident from his uncharacteristic ‘sharp shooting’. With a hug and a wink, the TDP-moved Congress president entered Modi’s turf, turning the debate on the no-confidence motion into a political blockbuster on TV screens. Young Gandhi performed the pre-planned role to near perfection that too with a co-actor (Prime Minister) who has hugged many presidents and prime ministers in the last many years. Modi, who initially looked nonplussed and did not stand up to hug him, recovered quickly and called Gandhi back and patted him on the back. On Friday, the country discovered that not only the Prime Minister, but the Congress president also likes to hug. Clearly, the Prime Minister didn’t see that coming, however, he shook Gandhi’s hand and smiled. It took no time for the Twitterati to come up with their best jokes and memes after a ‘hug’ and flooded social media with them. While some praised the humble gestures of Gandhi, others were surprised.
On Rahul’s part, for that matter on Congress’ part it was also a brave and open political gesture. In the midst of a no-confidence motion, Rahul found the perfect moment to deliver an embrace. Modi was visibly unsure about how to react to Rahul’s gesture. Many aspects of Gandhi’s speech, delivered prior to enacting the hugging drama, laid down the Congress’s political plank before the 2019 general elections. He also thanked the Sangh parivar for reminding him what the Congress stood for, saying that it is the politics of hatred practiced by the BJP and RSS that helped him understand the “meaning of Hindustan” and the fact that the Congress stands for “love for all” irrespective of their identities. Rahul made the point that he is not suffering from any hatred towards his political opponent, that he does not practice the politics of ill will. Further the Congress president, by his gesture, made the valuable point that he is doing pure politics, not war. There is no denying that through this 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.
Rahul’s wink as soon as he finished the speech was another debatable issue. These unprecedented actions by Rahul diluted the seriousness of the discussion. Whether they enhanced or diminished his image will be a matter which will be debated for a long time to come. If he had made some “gains” by successfully pulling a stunt with the hug, the unguarded ‘wink’ nullified those gains. Did the Congress chief use human expressions of love (such as a hug) to serve political ends?