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One Hug From Rahul Gandhi, Has Dented A Multi-Crore Industry Built To Sustain Modi’s Super Human Image

Rahul Gandhi is perhaps the only mainstream politician to advocate love and compassion as essential components of a political agenda.

There is a multi-crore industry to sustain the image and persona of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as larger-than-life, or if one may risk saying, even superhuman.

No leader in India’s history has been accused of the kind of megalomania and narcissism that Modi has displayed in the last four years of his rule. Or even before that.

Modi often addresses himself in the third person. He is the BJP, the BJP is him. His party leaders swear by him more than they swear by God, in whose very name, though, they conduct their politics.

A senior BJP spokesperson even gave away the awe and fear when he, in a fit of anger over an opponent’s remark in a TV debate, called Modi “sabka baap” (everyone’s father). Freudian? You bet.

Images from BJP party meetings often show Modi seated at a distance, like a monarch, as his subordinates – some of India’s tallest ministers and leaders – huddle together, or are even seen standing.

When he visits places, he prefers to be photographed alone. When he even joins hundreds of people for a public yoga event, it is ensured that his mat is clearly laid at a distance from the ordinary yogis around him.

Such has been the persuasion of this Modi-as-superhuman industry that even an otherwise belligerent Indian media has allowed him to get away by what has been an unprecedented show of arrogance and power by an Indian prime minister – his refusal to conduct a single press conference.

Of course, Modi speaks to the people he “rules” over. But those are mostly from the pedestal of an election rally, or carefully crafted and curated words on social media, or monologues on the radio.

In fact, Modi’s government and the BJP have tried everything in and outside the book to redefine the idea of an Indian prime minister as more of an authoritarian figure, who refuses to engage in any real conversation with his people or dislikes being seen as just another human being.

Until today.

Rahul Gandhi, Modi’s arch enemy in an ongoing war over the idea of India, after tearing into four tumultuous and violent years of the government during a no-confidence motion debate, walked over to a startled Modi, asked him to get up, and when refused, forced him into a hug.

It was a startling, unexpected, mildly awkward, and yet one of the most disruptive moves by an Indian politician aimed at disarming a formidable opponent.

The significance of the moment cannot be overemphasised. The superhuman Modi, who, quite literally and metaphorically, could not be touched was touched.

Through a remarkably disruptive hug, otherwise, one of the most innocuous expressions of human intimacy, the carefully constructed mythology around a cold monarch was finally breached.

It was the closest that two of India’s most important politicians who, in many ways, are pole opposites of each other, had come together in an awkward embrace frozen in time for posterity now.

“You have anger against me, you can call me names, you can abuse me, but I don’t have a speck of hatred against you. I will take out this hatred out of you and turn it into love,” Rahul said, moments before he made the audacious walk to Modi’s seat, and stunned him with a touch. By another human being. In Parliament.

It was a remarkable breach of a superhuman facade by a politician, who only wants to be seen as human, and stresses on a politics that is human.

In many ways, the moment of the hug was also deeply humanising.

Rahul Gandhi is perhaps the only mainstream politician to advocate love and compassion as essential components of a political agenda. For his repeated invocation of the four-letter word (hate too is four letters, by the way), the Congress leader is often considered a misfit for his naïveté amidst the grime and slime of Indian politics.

By hugging India’s most powerful, and arguably the most divisive man, Rahul once again underlined what his strategy of taking on Modi is. Love against hate. Humility against arrogance.

Herein lies a revealing irony. It must be remembered here that Modi already has a reputation for being a prolific hugger. But his hugs so far have a pattern that reveals his mindset: Modi only hugs powerful global leaders, an overwhelming majority of whom have been whites.

Many said Rahul’s hug was a breach of parliamentary decency and norm. The same parliament where hostility and difference rule, where lawmakers show little compassion and love for the people they rule over, and where arrogance becomes the hallmark of those in power.

If a hug is against parliamentary decency or norm, it may be a good time to rethink the conventions. As HR rules in job applications say, make hugs desirable, if not mandatory.

As mob lynching of innocent people, visceral politics of religion, everyday threats to minorities, and a muscular, masculine ideology of hate becomes an appalling norm, the country’s weary and wounded soul can do with some hugs. And love.

Postscript: Later tonight in Parliament, Modi’s disgraceful mockery of Rahul’s hug only proves the Congress leader’s point. The war for the idea of India now has clear antagonists. The simple question before us is: do you love a hug?

Nadim Asrar is an independent journalist with a keen interest in theories of governance, minority rights, and Indian popular culture.

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