Suresh Subrahmanyan | Much ado about a ‘flying kiss’ in the Lok Sabha & its aftermath

The Asian Age.  | Suresh Subrahmanyan

Opinion, Columnists

At the end of the day, to the overblown incident of Rahul Gandhi blowing a flying kiss in Parliament, the question is: has he blown it?

MP Rahul Gandhi at Parliament House complex during Monsoon session, in New Delhi, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)

The “flying kiss”, a largely fashionable Western affectation (though also fairly common in elite social circles in this country), is suddenly in the news in India, that is Bharat Mata. The airy gesture, also known as an “air kiss”, was provided by none other than the tallest leader of the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi, in Parliament earlier this week. Not that he is awfully tall or anything, quite to the contrary in fact, but you get my drift. Before I go any further, let me elucidate that most respectable dictionaries define a “flying kiss” as a symbolic gesture given by kissing one’s own hand, then blowing on the hand in a direction towards the recipient. As gestures go, the flying kiss is quite harmless and friendly and we see sportspersons, particularly cricketers, do it all the time when they reach an important landmark like a century or a five-wicket haul. In other words, on the face of it, one cannot divine anything objectionable in the act itself. Which naturally begs the question on why there was such an almighty ruckus in India’s Lower House of Parliament when Rahul Gandhi blew his now infamous airborne kiss as he was leaving the House while the speaker from the treasury benches, the feisty Smriti Irani, was warming to her response to Mr Gandhi’s remarks.

Therein lies the rub. Now the television cameras did not actually show the viewer Rahul Gandhi’s gesture. Perhaps they felt, probably wisely, that discretion was the better part of valour. The optics would only have exacerbated an already simmering tension. However, there can be no question of denying that it happened as there were enough official and unofficial mobile cameras clicking every little move of the relatively young leader. One of the TV channels even led with the kissing story continuously, showing a grainy grab of the Congressman’s gesture.

So much for what transpired on the flying kiss. It is what happened afterwards that led to all the consternation and bad blood. Blood was never good to start with between the rival sides in Parliament, but this incident gave ample opportunity to a host of people in the ruling party to label Rahul Gandhi as a misguided misogynist. The scion of the Gandhi family has a history when one recalls some of his past acts in the Lok Sabha. The hugger of a startled Prime Minister, a mischievous wink at some of his party colleagues and now, the flying kiss into the middle distance, they all tend to add up to a mountain even if the source is only a molehill. I have no wish to go into Rahul Gandhi’s opening remarks, or indeed Smriti Irani’s fiery riposte and finally home minister Amit Shah’s last and exhaustive word on the day’s proceedings. This is only about the pros and cons of the reaction to Rahul Gandhi’s gesture and, indeed, to the wisdom of that air kiss in the first place.

Politics is all about making capital out of an opportunity. Rahul Gandhi, whose speech was unexpectedly short both in length and in content, could still have scored a few brownie points with his emotionally charged peroration on the Manipur situation. However, when Smriti Irani began her response, Rahul Gandhi decided to leave the House, which meant he also skipped home minister Amit Shah’s speech later that evening. Some might have characterised his departure as a discourtesy, but nothing more. He did have rally engagements elsewhere. However, his strategic departure accompanied by the needless flying kiss, that too while a lady was speaking, was not lost on members of the treasury benches, who made a nine-course meal out of it. The misogyny allegation was repeated ad nauseum. A section of the ruling party’s women members issued a formal declaration to the Speaker in protest, demanding action against the “offender”. However, the home minister made no reference to Rahul Gandhi’s gesture, which would have only made an awkward situation more embarrassing.

The instinctive, if misplaced, gesture by Rahul Gandhi threatened to reduce the seriousness of the no-confidence motion against the government to a slapstick sideshow. Mercifully, a bit of tact and savoir faire was displayed, at least during the rest of the proceedings and life went on noisily as usual. This is not to say the matter will die a natural death. A section of the ruling party will doubtless keep harping on the incident on television news channels to portray the Congress leader as an immature parliamentarian, who is yet to cut his teeth in national politics, particularly when it comes to minding his Ps and Qs in the “temple of democracy”. Unfortunately, India’s answer to the fabled Quick Draw McGraw keeps the door ajar to such trenchant criticism.

Having said that, obstreperous members of the ruling party should temper the tendency to go overboard on an issue that was, in relative terms, a minor solecism. However, in our dog-eat-dog world of politics, that may be too much to ask. I personally expect this incident to provide a few cheap thrills for the ruling party to gloat, and make some members of the Congress a shade red-faced. Beyond that, the flying kiss incident is a bit of a non-issue that will have its moments under the sun for a few days, then peter out altogether. At the end of the day, to the overblown incident of Rahul Gandhi blowing a flying kiss in Parliament, the question is: has he blown it?