‘Hug de India’: Prime Minister Modi’s hug-fest in Glasgow baffle foreign media

He does not hug everyone he meets abroad, nor greet all world leaders with his trademark hug. It is possible that they are not spontaneous but choreographed for effect and outcome

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@Arshadhasankha9
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@Arshadhasankha9

NH Web Desk

What’s wrong with the good, old, Indian and Sanatani ‘Namaste’? Why must the Indian Prime Minister hug world leaders? The question has been baffling many Indians as an embarrassing Daily Mail (UK) report described Prime Minister Narendra Modi embracing the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at Glasgow ‘cringe worthy’ and awkward.

The report in part read, “India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres shared an awkward moment after the former went in for a hug at Cop26…Guterres looked visibly uncomfortable as a mask-less Modi went in for a big hug.” Several other observers and international media took note of the Indian Prime Minister’s hug-fest.

ITV's political editor Robert Peston shared a clip of Modi’s “embrace” with Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel describing it as “Big country hug with tiny one” or “…human capital embracing financial capital."

“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known for his extra-cordial greetings during his meetup with global leaders, was once again seen getting too close…,” reported Geo TV.

Prime Minister Modi’s bear hugs on his last trip abroad to Rome and Glasgow, without wearing a mask, of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of UK, Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau were widely photographed and shared.

Does he hug only world leaders? He is not known to greet Indian leaders of even his own party with hugs. Nor can anyone recall any photograph of the Prime Minister hugging a person of colour or an African leader; nor for that matter the Chinese President Xi Jin Ping, though there are photographs of Modi hugging former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Hugs of course are as Indian, perhaps an even more common form of greeting people one knows at festivals and at home, as folding one’s hands and saying ‘Namaste’ (I bow to thee) by way of greeting. But embracing dignitaries and guests at public functions is not the norm, noted bewildered Indians.

The pandemic prompted several Indians to discover the virtues of offering a ‘Namaste’ to greet people as opposed to a handshake. But Prime Minister Modi, who has lectured Indians on wearing masks and maintain social distance, stood out in Rome and Glasgow by often appearing mask-less and offering handshakes and his trademark hugs.

Modi hugs are not for all though. One cannot recall such enthusiastic hugs with his party leaders or mentors like LK Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee or even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. He has not hugged his Ministers or MPs, at least not in public.

In 2019 The Caravan did an analysis of 91 bilateral visits abroad by PM Modi to 57 countries and 106 bilateral visits by foreign world leaders to India between the period of 2014 to 2019 and found some answers.

In the May 2019 report The Caravan reported that there was a one-in-three chance of a world leader getting a hug from Modi. Out of 71 world leaders that he had been photographed with he had hugged only 23. The chances increased if the leader was a male from a rich country with high GDP.

Modi’s hug probability also increased if the leader was a G20 or G7 member. Foreign Direct Investment also had a corelation with Modi hugs, probability of which went up by 55.6% if the country had proposed investments in India. Bilateral debts too had a correlation, the analysis found, so that if India owed money to the country, the PM was more likely to hug the leader. 99.99 percent of India’s debts are owed to five countries – Germany, Japan, United States, France and Russia. Modi has hugged leaders of all the four countries except Germany, making an exception for only Germany’s Angela Merkel, possibly in deference to her gender.

Read the Caravan report complete with charts, maps and a Modi-meter at Caravan website here: https://caravanmagazine.in/modimeter/hugs

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