Both were hugs involving two of India's most followed politicians. But the impact that followed was completely different. And that proved once again that in politics, perception matters---at least in these parts of the world.
When Kejriwal hugged Lalu, all hell broke loose
When Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal hugged RJD chief Lalu Prasad in Patna following the Grand Alliance's convincing victory against Narendra Modi-led NDA in the Bihar Assembly polls in October-November, all hell broke loose.
But things were rosy when Modi embraced Sharif
But when Prime Minister Modi embraced his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during a surprise visit to Lahore while coming back from Kabul, the applause was heartening.
Irrespective of the actual impact in political or foreign policy terms, the perception that these two gestures gave birth to defined the fate of the two politicians.
Kejriwal faced such a backlash because of his hugging act with Lalu that he tried to defend it saying it was the RJD chief who had pulled and hugged him and reiterated that he is still against the latter's record of corruption and dynastic politics (both of Lalu's sons won the polls this time, with one even becoming the deputy to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar). The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor, however, succeeded little in convincing his critics and was dubbed as a complete politician who knew the exigencies well.
Kejriwal-Lalu: Hugs of two conflicting images
The Kejriwal-Lalu hug earned brickbats because it was just not a hug between two individuals. It seemed odd to many for it was an embrace of two conflicting political images. Kejriwal rose as a crusader against corruption while Lalu is a politician convicted in a corruption case. Moreover, Kejriwal is a politician who took birth in the realms of the moralistic urban, middle-class India.
Lalu Prasad, on the other hand, is more of a subaltern messiah who fought for the social empowerment of the unrepresented sections and is viewed more as political entertainer by the class that backs politicians like Kejriwal. Thus, a coming close of such two politicians who belong to completely contradictory worlds did not go down well with the audience. Hence, the backlash. And mind you, it was Kejriwal who bore the brunt the most because of the hug.
Modi and Sharif: Hugs of two like-minded intents
For PM Modi, the same perception factor worked to his favour. The prime minister, who has made it a habit of making the moves of diplomacy in the most unconventional ways (inviting Sharif and other South Asian leaders to his swearing-in, extending an unusual welcome to the Chinese President and the First Lady in Ahmedabad or inviting US President as the chief guest at the Republic Day this year before the unexpected Lahore landing) will reap the advantage for being one who genuinely aspires for a better relation with Pakistan.
At least, him hugging Sharif (both PMs clad in traditional dress makes it all the more perfect) sends a strong message of camaraderie to the biggest opponents of the peace process. And unlike Kejriwal's case, Modi's hugging the head of the government of a neighbour not seen as a friend doesn't win more enemies and friends.
The ‘unexpected' worked for one, not for the other
The AAP convenor's problem might have been lesser had he embraced Nitish Kumar more in the public but he chose the wrong man. While the unexpected did the Delhi CM in, it paid off for the PM, at least as far as symbolism is concerned.