NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi’s hug that stole the limelight in parliament last week wasn’t an impromptu decision but a well-considered tactic. One, that had been coming for nearly three months, and was executed after a long internal deliberation that stretched for weeks, if not months, sources told NDTV.
It was an idea set off by one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches that mocked the Congress president, mother Sonia Gandhi and the Gandhi family.
“It was about three or four months ago when Rahul Gandhi heard PM Modi speaking where he criticised the Gandhi family including his mother,” a source close to the Congress president said.
And Mr Gandhi, 48, thought the best way to counter PM Modi was by the public display of affection.
It is a point that Mr Gandhi had been making right from last year when during the Gujarat assembly election campaign, for example, he would make the point that his political rivalry with PM Narendra Modi did not extend to hatred.
In one television interview, Mr Gandhi pointed to the many abuses that were hurled at his father and him by BJP leaders but claimed that he only felt love for his detractors. “There is zero anger or hatred in me (towards PM Modi),” he told Gujarati news channel GSTV in the middle of the election campaign.
But there had been no feedback to indicate if this message struck a chord with voters.
It was felt that the public display of affection, or the PDA plan, which had been taking shape for some time, could prove to be far more effective to make a contrast in the two different styles of politics.
Mr Gandhi is said to have told his colleagues that he believed a hug would take the PM by surprise. However, insiders say that he did wrestle with the timing of it.
Should it be during the PM’s speech? Or should it be in the middle or end? In the end, he decided to go for it when he ended his speech during the no-confidence debate. He strode across the floor and wrapped his arms around the prime minister, who looked startled.
“You can abuse me, you can call me Pappu, 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. I am the Congress,” said Mr Gandhi in the Lok Sabha on Friday, making an astonishing reference to the pejorative his rivals in the BJP use for him.
Mr Gandhi’s headline-grabbing hug, however, did expose him to some criticism too. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan spoke about the need for members to maintain decorum in the house when she frowned at Mr Gandhi’s hug. She did clarify that she had nothing against hugs but Mr Gandhi’s action was a nautanki, or drama.
The next day, PM Modi also took a shot at Rahul Gandhi for his “unwanted hug” at a public rally in Uttar Pradesh.
But there have been many others, such as the BJP’s upset ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra that showered praises on him. “The Congress chief has now graduated from the real school of politics,” Sena leader Sanjay Raut told reporters, calling the move a “shock” for PM Modi.
“I am going to hug a lot,” Rahul Gandhi is reported to have told certain people