Modi’s enthusiastic bear hug beats Trump’s handshake

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has responded to the infamous “Trump handshake” with his own diplomatic tool of choice – the bear hug.

A series of awkward greetings and handshakes between Mr Trump and other world leaders has left many wondering who could “beat” his approach.

French President Emmanuel Macron was deemed a winner when he gripped and refused to let go of Mr Trump’s hand.
But for many observers, Mr Modi – an experienced hugger – has outdone that.

The Indian prime minister’s propensity to hug global leaders goes back a long way – this BBC blog called him “the most physically demonstrative Indian leader in years”.

It is also a true diplomatic masterstroke – Mr Macron may have “beaten” the Trump handshake last month, but it was a tense encounter with both men’s knuckles turning white.

But who could possibly object to a hug?

The choreography of the bear hug

The success of the Modi bear hug is in no small part down to its athletic choreography – that disarmed Mr Trump before he could respond.

The initial approach was slow with arms outstretched and there was no hint of the embrace to come, though if Mr Trump’s advisers had done their homework they would have seen how Mr Modi has clung to other world leaders.

He slowly reels President Trump in with first one hand then the other and there is little of the trademark Trump awkwardness in his slow but sure progress towards the Indian leader.

He finally barrels at the US president, avoiding all eye contact and presses his head on his chest in a gesture at once disarming and confident.

Mr Trump draws away slightly but not without looking down at Mr Modi with what could even be affection, although their eyes do not meet.

And as they draw away Mr Modi keeps hold of the US president’s hand and lingers in a firm double hand-lock.
They retreat to their podiums and carry on as if nothing has happened.

For many observers the hug was both natural and commanding and left neither of the leaders at a loss – in stark contrast to numerous other Trump greetings with world leaders.

And many on social media marvelled at what they called Mr Modi’s “craftsmanship”.

Of course both sides are likely to have prepared for the meeting. Like football coaches before international matches, their political aides and advisers may well have studied the techniques of either leader and there could well have been briefings on how to handle that first contact.

How likely is that really to have happened?
KC Singh, a former secretary in India’s external affairs ministry, told the BBC that “given Mr Modi’s hugging record, it would have been a very ill-informed US team that would not have known Mr Modi was going to go for Donald Trump”.

Mr Singh added that the gesture seemed to be done more for viral value than anything else, noting that even in India “no one hugs each other randomly”.

Going by social media, Mr Modi’s mastery was largely expected in India. There was quite a lot of humour about it, as well as some pride. But quite a few found this effusive display a bit embarrassing as well. Others had seen it coming.

It looks as though world leaders have become more tactical about responding to the Trump handshake after both Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and British Prime Minister Theresa May were seen as faring poorly against it.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in is due to meet Mr Trump next.

It remains to be seen if he can best the hug.

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