Punjab’s Congress Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu caught in the latest episode of ‘huglomacy’. He streaked into hot water when he was caught on camera in a full-on hug with Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The media and politicians declared this act as insensitivity to the Indian armed forces in doing so. There was criticism, protest, name calling humiliation and so much to paint this issue as an antinational gesture. He will probably survive the attack since no one truly cares that much and even for those who do, Sidhu is not a rising star or a statesman of a grand design. Still, some Congress leaders came forward to defend him by questioning Prime Minister Modi’s hugging addiction. Imran Khan as his Cricket player buddy invited the Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu; to my surprise, Narendra Modi and his team were not given any invite by Imran. Rather, Nawaz Sharif was the guest of honour at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony as the Prime Minister of India.
Sidhu had gone to Pakistan by doing every formality that allows an Indian citizen to visit Pakistan. Moreover, hugging is the way to directly descend into the hearts of the person you hug. Sidhu believes that non-serious approach towards problems facing humanity can’t eradicate them; on the contrary, it complicates them. Hugging is just the reflection of his personalised approach to the people. Meanwhile, he is not the only Indian politician who has hugged a Pakistani. Modi has not only hugged Pervez Musharraf but he visited him uninvited breaking all the protocols.
Narendra Modi’s hugs to the rich and powerful are shown as his “Statesmanship” and personal bonding, provided it co-relates with the national interest and to show the rest of the world that being the PRIME MINISTER of the world’s largest democracy. Giving just a handshake is quite formal for him; he has hit the headlines with his awkward hugs and became a fun tool for the foreign media. Hugging is the eastern way of greeting, while the handshake is a western style of greeting. All the western behaviours are just formal. Modi is famous for his impulsive hugs in public and US President Donald Trump was no exception. But what’s the reason behind his bear hug diplomacy? India is a Tolerant, Secular, and a Loving Country! Every Nation in this World must feel Comfortable while they deal with Indians. If Modi takes care of spreading love and warmth, so does Navjot Singh Sidhu. Then, why do we see selective outrage?
Navjot Singh Sidhu hugged the Pakistani delegate because of his culture. In Indian culture, hugging is a sign of warmth and trust. We hug when we meet a person for the first time or after a long time. We do not hug a person whom we see every day. The phrase ‘I welcome you with open arms’ is closely symbolic to an Indian embrace. When Barack Obama came to India, by that time, Modi already met him in the USA and he had a kind of backdrop to welcome him to his home country with a hug. Having said that, when he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he did not hug her for the same reason, which is Culture. In Indian culture, a Man does not hug a Woman unless that woman is his Daughter, Mother, Wife, or a friend and vice-versa. Sometimes they are greeting hugs, sometimes they are congratulatory. I don’t see a hug as an alien thing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too does not seem to believe in mere handshakes where diplomacy is concerned. He has greeted many foreign heads of states with an impromptu hug. This has often taken his counterparts by surprise. One presumes that he has not been advised by his protocol officers to do so. The only world leaders the Prime Minister does not hug are women, e.g. Sheikh Hasina and Dilma Rousseff earlier, and Angela Merkel more recently. He reserves only a handshake for them. He could greet them with a peck on the cheek but until now, he has desisted from doing so. Hugging or loving touch, neuroscience tells us, releases a neuropeptide called oxytocin. Hugging excites us and sends out just the right dose of oxytocin to the brain making us happy and comfortable.
One has their own way of dealing, such subject becoming a national issue is an intellectual bankruptcy of media.
If you notice, when Modi is not greeting the foreign leaders or Indian Business houses, he meets his party’s MPs in the Parliament in a setting in which he sits away from them, he sits alone on a platform with a single chair for himself. The architecture of power is clear. He is above the rest and must be publicly seen to be so. His approach completely changes, he never hugs his Ministers or supporters; he handshakes if needed or else, they bend down for his blessing and he pretends to be a God. Modi’s followers often tried defending to style him as “Chhote Sardar” or smaller version of India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel — or they did so till the time he became the Prime Minister. Strongmen in India don’t show emotions. And nor does Modi, one would presume, if we set aside the one time he choked and got teary-eyed when asked about his mother in a televised interaction with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in September 2015. Several times he cried while delivering his speeches. On the contrary, nobody in India has seen Modi hugging a child, a riot victim, a farmer, a tribal, or anyone suffering. There are, however, pictures of him hugging Ayurveda tycoon and yoga teacher Ramdev, Business magnate Mukesh Ambani and even LK Advani before political clashes came in between both of them. History teaches us that not all hugs are meant to signal trust and acceptance. Some are just political – Shivaji after all had also once held Afzal Khan in a bear hug, which turned out to be fatal for the latter, or in the recent past, Navjot Singh hugging a Pakistani.
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