A Nod and a Wink — Gestures and Political Strategies

About a week and a half ago, a good amount of the Indian population was bubbling with shock and excitement at the unconventionally humorous and entertaining turn of events at the Lok Sabha No-Confidence Debate. The Congress and other parties against the BJP may have failed miserably in their endeavor to dissolve the government, but Rahul Gandhi’s hug and wink achieved a remarkable amount as far as gaining political traction was concerned. Earlier this week, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal made quite the public exhibition of his displeasure when he decided to tear the L-G’s report on CCTV cameras, condemning it as a political gimmick. What is this sudden venture our politicians seem to have made into publicly showcasing their feelings with aids other than speech? There’s much to unravel in the political strategy behind such non-verbal gestures.

The face of politics and the art of appealing to the people, of being what the public wants to see in their leader, has changed significantly in the past few decades. Succeeding at people is a task that is an essential component of being a good, and more importantly, popular politician. The use of gestures, can vary from something as formally and universally exchanged as a handshake, or something as sensational as Rahul Gandhi’s wink. The latter has to do primarily with the larger political resonances within the populace.

The acceptance and appreciation of frivolity and even eccentricity, seems to be the primary reason behind why these unconventional gestures work. Boredom is a curse that most of the politically conscious, television-watching middle-class face, and anything that is strikingly odd succeeds in gaining our attention. Quirky is the new cool. Rahul Gandhi’s planned ‘spontaneity’ for a moment struck most of us as something so out of character, it isn’t something that you’d expect out of the mostly sassed-over Congress President. Of course, there were a fair amount of people who were clicking their tongues at the lack of decorum, and some others who were laughing at him, and others yet still who were pleasantly awestruck at his ease and manner, but what they all shared was the moment of being taken aback, and in the blink of an eye, Rahul Gandhi’s video clips flooded all major news channels.

Modi’s response was elaborate and had strong undertones of criticism, but it wasn’t nearly as popular as his opponent’s wink. Why? The psychological deconstruction seems simple enough. After all, what will you register faster, a 90-minute long, content heavy speech, or a 20-second long clip of Rahul Gandhi hugging a distressed Modi? Most of us use quick mental processing when we get a lot of information, only a few of us who are truly interested in understanding the logical rebuttals of a tedious debate go through the pain of actually listening to the matter and content. A surprising gesture on the other hand, immediately snaps us back into the loop of events, and in an attempt to make sense of it, we direct even more of our attention to it. When most of our media made this the central focus of the news, they knew what they were doing and, in all probability, so did Rahul Gandhi.

Further, there’s also the additional benefits of visual cues, which is much easier for us to interpret. Outside of the middle-class, even our lower and relatively illiterate classes can understand what it means when Rahul Gandhi winks, whether or not they can understand the rest of the proceedings in the Lok Sabha. Add to this the fact that public demonstrations have more reach today than ever before because of the presence of the media. When Arvind Kejriwal is tearing the L-G report, he is expressing his discontent not only to a group of people seated for a press conference but essentially the entire nation. This means there are some tens of thousands of eyes witnessing his very visually understandable act.

Non-verbal gestures, especially the ones that seem to have occurred ‘in the heat of the moment’, then have a great potential to go a long way in making a politician recognizable. One can only speculate as to how spontaneous these gestures actually are, because today, politics is not about being good at administration or having necessary acumen, it’s about being popular, and Rahul Gandhi certainly is now more than he was before.

Picture Credits: www.livemint.com

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