Pappu Ki Jhappi: PM Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Comes Full Circle

Politics

Pappu Ki Jhappi: PM Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Comes Full Circle

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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ormally, Indian Parliament sessions are as action-packed as an episode of WWE RAW, and usually even more aggressive. However, during Friday’s proceedings in the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha’s Monsoon Session, there was one moment when the world stood still, and the usual mudslinging was replaced by a warm embrace. It was the jadoo ki jhappi that rocked the nation, causing even more excitement than the time Shah Rukh and Salman hugged it out at Baba Siddique’s iftar party. Sometimes I wonder why we bother with Bollywood at all, when all the entertainment you need is available for cheap on Lok Sabha TV.

I’m talking about Rahul Gandhi’s now-infamous (Or was it famous? Jury’s out yet?) act of crossing the Parliament floor and hugging PM Modi, right after concluding a lengthy speech targeting the government of several wrongdoings. While the Opposition’s many grievances and the Centre’s responses are worthy of another piece, let’s dwell on how unpredictable Rahul’s actions were following his fiery diatribe –  like a teacher who beats a student with a ruler only to give them a Melody chocolate afterward.

The NaGa Hug, as it shall now be known, was completely unexpected, and therefore memorable – the most important quality any act performed in our political theatre can hope to possess. It grabbed national headlines almost immediately, with #BhukampAaGaya and #PappuKiJhappi trending simultaneously, propped up by Rahul’s supporters and detractors respectively. But crucially, the NaGa Hug attempted to position Rahul as a maverick speaker capable of holding his own in the chaotic environment of the Indian Parliament. Because can you even politics bro, if you can’t use the opposition’s most potent weapon against them?

History is littered with sad stories of inventors undone by their own creations. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work on radioactivity, died from radiation exposure. The Titanic’s chief naval architect was lauded for constructing a marvellous vessel, and then he went down with the ship on its fateful maiden voyage. Similarly, the NaGa Hug has ensured that PM Modi joins this list.

Nobody knows what Modi said to Rahul after the hug, when the PM pulled the younger politician close and whispered something in his ear. I can’t be certain, but I’d like to think it was something along the lines of, “Meri billi, mujhe meow?”

That thought must have crossed Mr Modi’s mind when Rahul was bearing down on him with a license to clinch. After all, Modi has elevated the humble hug from an introvert’s least-favourite greeting to a powerful tool of international diplomacy. The list of world leaders who have been caught up in Modi’s powerful embrace is longer than the list of press conferences he’s given since taking office, and includes political heavyweights like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Barack Obama. Hell, he even expanded his scope to include tech moguls and swept up Mark Zuckerberg in one of his trademark acts of hugplomacy during a visit to Facebook’s California headquarters. No word on whether Mark “liked” this.

Just like Rahul and the notorious NaGa Hug, Modi’s hugplomacy has had its share of fans and critics. However, the PM has never let any negative feedback get in his way. There are now galleries across the internet, containing frame after frame of our PM channelling his inner bear and putting the squeeze on a hapless foreign leader. There are think pieces arguing for and against Modi’s hugplomacy, because when the PM does not speak up in time on issues like women’s safety and lynchings, columnists have to work with what they can get.

But because he can’t even eat breakfast in the morning without a Twitter troll telling him he fucked up by putting too much milk in the cereal, the NaGa Hug has led to some very predictable brickbats being thrown at Rahul Gandhi. In an incident sure to go down in the “pot calling the kettle black” Hall of Fame, Modi called out Rahul for his childish antics in his rebuttal speech later in the day. Rahul had also been chided by the House’s Speaker, and was caught winking to his fellow Congress MPs after detonating the bomb. This led to admonishments from various NDA MPs, and after Modi’s lengthy speech, the government comfortably won the ongoing no-confidence vote.

Given the BJP’s overwhelming strength of numbers in the Lok Sabha, the no-confidence vote was always a losing battle for Rahul and the Opposition. However, by taking a strong stand and using the NaGa Hug to turn Modi’s hugplomacy onto himself, Rahul pulled off a Baazigar and snatched a sliver of victory from what could have been a complete defeat.

Nobody knows what Modi said to Rahul after the hug, when the PM pulled the younger politician close and whispered something in his ear. I can’t be certain, but I’d like to think it was something along the lines of, “Meri billi, mujhe meow?”

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