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Playing the winning hand

Many US presidents are southpaws. There is little proof that PM Modi is left-handed. He signed in as PM favouring his right hand. But that hasn’t prevented the Indian Left Hander Club from claiming him as a member, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

columns Updated: Aug 09, 2014 00:51 IST

On August 13, the world will pause for a moment to ignore Left Handers Day, as it has done for the previous 21 years.

It does so at its own peril. In recent decades there’s been a power shift to the left.

Take the United States, for instance. According to exit polls taken after the American presidential elections in 2012, political pundits have ascribed 49,864 reasons (by my reckoning, and with a plus/minus 83% margin of error) for Republican Mitt Romney’s failure to oust Barack Obama from the White House. There was a deeper trend here that caused Romney to be left behind: He may have lost the upper hand because he favours his right limb.

The problem wasn’t just that Romney didn’t move enough to Obama’s left. He opted to remain middle-of-the-road, not quite ‘severely Conservative’ just severely confused. After all, being left-handed can well determine success in American politics. Ronald Reagan was a natural left-hander, forced to turn to the right due to the values of his time. His vice-president and successor in the White House George HW Bush was, you guessed it, left-handed. All three candidates for president in 1992 were southpaws, including eventual winner Bill Clinton. In fact, the popular vote in 2000 was also claimed by a leftie, Al Gore. As are Obama and his 2008 rival John McCain. George W Bush was right-handed and look what that got the US: The ham-handed Iraq invasion. As oft-cited social media guru, Anonymous, declaimed: “The right half of the brain controls the left half of the body. This means that only left handed people are in their right mind.”

Natural lefties have several electoral advantages, among them the ability to deliver left-handed compliments. Left-handers also have a lifetime of developing sharp elbows, an asset in politics. After all, sitting at a school desk or dining table, lefties quickly develop a tendency to shove off attempts by uppity right-handers to occupy their space. Left-handers, psychological studies indicate, also have a tendency to schizophrenia, another useful trait in politics.

On the other hand, whenever China elects (for want of a better word) its new supreme leader, there’s scant likelihood of Xinhua reporting which hand he favours, except that it’ll come in an iron fist.

Meanwhile, in India, the new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, ran an Obamaesque campaign, and is emulating the American President in delivering governance that has swung from hope and change to hype and chaff.

Though the word sinister has often been applied to him, there is little proof Modi is actually left-handed. He signed in as PM favouring his right hand. But that hasn’t prevented the Indian Left Hander Club from claiming him as a member since he apparently clenches his left fist and claps with his left hand, though one would think it takes both hands for that.

The nation may want to know the truth, unless, of course, there are more important matters to discuss like the criteria for recruiting those langur impersonators to rid our hallowed halls of marauding macaques.

If Modi is a closet leftie, that may explain India’s recent nixing of a WTO pact. But just as the country only came to know of his marital status courtesy a blank space finally filled on his election affidavit, this, too, may remain in the realm of speculation. Modi is unlikely to elate his left-handed fans, since he doesn’t indulge in minority appeasement.

Then again, he may not even want similarities with Obama to be highlighted. After all, about five years since he was sworn in as President, a recent Gallup poll showed that Obama’s favourability ratings are the worst among all living Presidents. His last election done and several policy pratfalls later, Obama can afford to limp off on his longest summer vacation this month. But Modi, in five years, won’t want to have only lame excuses to proffer to the electorate. Being even-handed might be his winning hand.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed by the author are personal

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