When Congress president Rahul Gandhi began walking towards the well of the House after his sharpest attack on the Centre in Parliament Friday, members on the treasury benches looked on curiously. Rahul walked past the well and stopped only at the far end, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seated.
There, he turned into the aisle, bent and spoke to Modi and both shook hands. MPs thought the gesture was a little unconventional but believed Rahul was done. He clearly was not. Rahul gestured to Modi to get up so they could hug, and the Prime Minister, visibly taken aback, stayed put in his seat.
The Congress president stretched across and wrapped Modi in an awkward hug leaving the Prime Minister, who remained seated, more than surprised. Rahul turned to walk away when Modi called him back. A few more words were exchanged, Modi patted Rahul and another hand-shake followed.
His mission accomplished, a beaming Rahul returned to his corner seat in the second row and winked at his party colleagues – Jyotiraditya Scindia and KC Venugopal – as he sat down almost as if to convey mission accomplished.
His move left even the Congress surprised. Sources said his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have asked him “what were you doing?” Rahul, sources said, appeared emotional after the speech.
On returning to his seat, Rahul said: “The meaning of being Hindu is to embrace the whole world. The whole world may abuse you, call you Pappu, but you should have love in your heart. This is the history and the future of this country.”
The hug and wink after evoked polar reactions across the political spectrum. While the Congress lauded Rahul’s “unscripted” gesture, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the “drama” was against Parliament decorum, while Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the hug reminded him of the Chipko Movement in Uttarakhand.
When Rahul returned to his seat and began to speak again, the Speaker reminded him that he had finished his speech. “This is a House and a House has its rules”, she told him. Later, the Speaker reprimanded Rahul for hugging the Prime Minister. “There is a decorum for every Parliamentarian. I am also a mother. At that time he was the Prime Minister. We should maintain the decorum of the House. I thought what drama was happening,” she said. According to Congress whip Jyotiraditya Scindia, it was not scripted. “It was at the spur of the moment,” he said. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked why the BJP was shaken and why was there so much anger in the saffron party.
“Rahul has shown how a magical hug can stop a storm of hate. He has shown to Modi the Congress’s mirror of love. You may hate, we would love. You divide, we would spread goodwill. Because we are Congress. We are Indians. We are humanity. The poison of divide and hatred is spreading in the society…the Modi government has divided the country over religion, caste, colour, language, dressing and food in the last 50 months,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “What an astonishing performance by @RahulGandhi. It was a game-changing speech, tearing apart the Govt’s claims & ending with that unscripted hug that has literally taken the BJP’s breath away”.
But Home Minister Rajnath Singh was not impressed. He said the incident reminded him of the ‘Chipko Movement’, a forest conservation movement in Uttarakhand, where people embraced trees to prevent them from being cut. “The Chipko movement has started in Parliament,” he said, adding, “This is not good.”
While BJP MP Kirron Kher invited Rahul to join Bollywood, Union minister Babul Supriyo said: “What is this? This is no gallery show. Is it a one-act play that one comes and hugs the Prime Minister? Somebody should make him understand the dignity of his position.” A Left MP, wishing anonymity, said: “We think it (the hug) was childish, but it was good for optics. It also shows that Rahul can match acting with acting.”