Is Smriti Irani too clever, too obtuse or too clever by half?

Union minister Smriti Irani had earlier alleged—falsely, as it turned out—that Rahul Gandhi had not visited the Vivekananda statue at Kankyakumari when beginning the Bharat Jodo Yatra

Union minister Smriti Irani (photo: National Herald archives)
Union minister Smriti Irani (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Political Bureau

In the ‘flying kiss’ controversy, the BJP leaders have "discovered salvation like a man with constipation finds in a goodly dose of castor oil", quipped an observer on Wednesday, 9 August, after the extraordinary allegation made by Smriti Irani.

“The one who was given the chance to speak before me displayed indecency before leaving," said Irani. "It is only a misogynistic man who can give a flying kiss to a Parliament which seats female members of Parliament. Such undignified conduct has never before (been) seen in the Parliament of the country...!"

In a letter addressed to the Lok Sabha Speaker later in the day, women MPs of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) demanded strict action against the Congress MP for allegedly lowering the dignity of the House.

The complaint evoked mixed reactions, however, with even NDA MP Hema Malini saying on camera that she had not seen Rahul Gandhi make any gesture. Most newspersons in the press gallery also appeared oblivious of the alleged gesture, but a woman correspondent in the gallery tweeted, even before Irani raised the issue, that a complaint against the alleged gesture would be made.

Journalist and commentator Sumanth Raman was one of those incredulous of his colleague's stand, though:

The allegation is mindboggling. I saw the slow-motion video multiple times. Whether indeed the gesture was a flying kiss or was one asking for silence/others to keep quiet is debatable. What is clear though is the fact that he was looking at the Speaker and not even remotely in the direction of Ms Irani when the gesture was made. Do "flying kisses" reflect off surfaces?
Sumanth Raman

Others, including the Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha member Priyanka Chaturvedi wondered why the NDA MPs fail to express similar anger when women are gang-raped and paraded in Manipur, when a Dalit woman is gang-raped, killed and cremated by the police at 2.30 am at Hathras or when champion wrestlers complain of sexual misbehaviour and molestation by BJP Member of Parliament Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh?

Could there, however, be a method to the madness? Every TV channel on Wednesday discussed the alleged ‘flying kiss episode’ during their prime-time discussions, overlooking Manipur and other key discussions that were or are to be tabled during the debate on the no-confidence motion.

While the Speaker is yet to act on the complaint filed by the NDA's women MPs, the prime-time TV debates and the outraged statements from Union ministers and BJP leaders, dutifully amplified by news agencies and TV channels, may already have convinced many Indians that the incident did actually take place.

While the jury is still out on whether the wild allegation is an act of desperation or a clever ploy to malign the image of Rahul Gandhi, the video footage telecast by Sansad TV has led to various interpretations of the gesture:

  1. He was thanking MPs of the NDA for heckling him throughout his speech and raising slogans—which is clearly not an unparliamentary act

  2. He was drawing the Speaker’s attention to the continuous heckling and indicated that he was not allowed to speak freely

  3. He was responding to jibes from the treasury benches that he was leaving the House by gesturing that he was going out to eat

An exasperated Supriya Shrinate, the Congress spokesperson, advised Smriti Irani to stop acting: “This is not a TV studio, this is Parliament.”

Several observers, however, suspect that the allegation was in fact 'drama' staged to divert attention, to force the Opposition in general and Rahul Gandhi in particular to respond to the silliness, and to convince their own constituencies of how ‘characterless’ the Congress and its leaders are. It could not have been a coincidence that Irani spoke of the entire Gandhi family’s ‘culture’ in criticising Rahul Gandhi's actions.

The question however remains whether Irani has, in this instance, been particularly clever, (not more than usually) obtuse, or too clever by half?

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