No-confidence motion: Cold electoral arithmetic does not have space for warm, fuzzy hugs

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s hug during the no-confidence motion debate is perhaps a sign that he perceives himself as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s equal. At the least, it is a sign that he and the Congress are not as scared of Modi as they once were. That’s a psychological battle won.

editorials Updated: Jul 21, 2018 08:19 IST
Hindustan Times
Congress president Rahul Gandhi hugs Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his speech in the Lok Sabha on 'no-confidence motion' during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, New Delhi, July 20(PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to hug, we all know that. On Friday, India discovered that Congress president Rahul Gandhi also likes to hug. Years from now, when the no-confidence motion against the National Democratic Alliance government is all but forgotten, it is likely that videos of Mr Gandhi hugging the PM will still be doing the rounds. It has gone viral. It is already a meme. In a post photo-op world, where the prime minister and his party have shown other parties what it takes to create a perfect digital moment, it was a rare one from a rival leader from an Opposition party. If Mr Gandhi’s aggressive speech, which, alas, will likely be subsumed by the hug, was a sign that the Congress leader has come of age as a politician, then the hug was a sign that he has also learnt the importance of imagery and symbolism – key weapons in any 21st century politician’s digital armoury.

There’s been some criticism that the hug injected a dash of facetiousness into otherwise serious proceedings in the House. That’s taking a limited view of the embrace. A hug can denote many things – affection, forgiveness, happiness, goodwill, congratulations – and while only Mr Gandhi will know for sure what he meant, the fact that he ventured to give the prime minister one was significant. Political hugs are usually exchanged by peers (one reason why the prime minister didn’t seem particularly comfortable when Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb gave him one a few months ago), and Mr Gandhi’s hug is perhaps a sign that he perceives himself as Mr Modi’s equal. At the least, it is a sign that he and the Congress are not as scared of Mr Modi as they once were. That’s a psychological battle won.

It would be too much to expect the hug to turn around the Congress’ electoral fortunes, though. That would require a complete reinvention of the organisation and also an adoption of many of the electioneering techniques the BJP made its own in 2014. To be fair, Mr Gandhi, the new Congress president, has started down this road, but there’s a lot more he needs to do. It would also be too much to expect the Congress’ potential partners in the grand-alliance-in-the-making for 2019 to accept Mr Gandhi as the grouping’s leader on the basis of a hug. Cold electoral arithmetic doesn’t have any space for warm, fuzzy hugs.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 18:02 IST