India

How a hug made history in India

When Delhi's new leader tweeted a tribute to his wife with a picture of them hugging after his extraordinary victory in elections, he made a little history in India. BBC Hindi's Rupa Jha reports - with a little bit of envy.

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Imagine you are playing a word association game. The first phrase is "Indian politics" - so what word do you come up with in return? Is it "aggression"? Maybe.

Is it "affection"? No. Surely not. Not in the normal order of things. But this week it might just be.

'Thank you Sunita'

Arvind Kejriwal, the anti-corruption activist, scored an astounding political victory earlier this week by capturing almost all of Delhi's assembly seats.

When the scale of his win became clear he tweeted out a picture of a hug with his wife.

"Thank you Sunita" - it said, his hand upon her shoulder. His wife, a bureaucrat, looked coy and blushed. Then he hugged her.

In a political culture dominated by male posturing and elitism, this was a moment that brought a tear to my eye - a rare moment of tenderness. It seems fitting that he gets sworn in on Valentine's Day.

Sunita Kejriwal will not be recognisable to most supporters of Mr Kejriwal's party, AAP. But her husband has given her credit for supporting him - they live in her government flat she has as a result of her job as a senior tax inspector. She has reportedly said that as a government servant it is not appropriate for her to comment on politics.

Mr Kejriwal has spoken of how they met during training at the Indian Revenue Service. He walked up to her one day and asked her to marry him - which she did.

As the hug flashed on the TV screens, many around me were visibly moved. It was akin to that "Obama moment" for Indians - when the US president tweeted a picture of him and his wife hugging upon re-election.

Mr Obama said recently of his wife: "She inspires me every day. She makes me a better man and a better president."

To be honest, looking at foreign politicians publicly acknowledging their partners' contribution and being unafraid of showing them affection has made me somewhat envious.

Taboo hugs

One of the more romantic and tragic stories in recent Indian political history is the love affair between Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. Once he was prime minister, the images were cautious and dignified.

Image copyright JOHN GIANNINI
Image caption Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi were a much photographed first couple
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former PM Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Singh made a number of public appearances together

Indians often wonder why our politicians cannot be more relaxed about such gestures. Public displays of affection are taboo for men in politics in this country.

Politicians in India have always insisted on projecting themselves as people whose only love is serving the motherland and the people. Their partners are rarely seen in public.

It's not just politicians who fail to acknowledge the role played by their partners in their lives. It's a far more pervasive phenomenon.

The Kejriwal hug was certainly a contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who didn't even acknowledge the existence of his wife until last year. It was only when he fielded his election papers that he publicly disclosed his marriage.

It barely dented Mr Modi's public image. In Indian politics, the renunciation of marital life for public service is often not only encouraged but also revered.

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Image caption Jashodaben and Narendra Modi were married - and separated - at a young age.

But it is not entirely fair to judge Mr Modi, who was after all apparently married off at a very young age. The couple agreed to separate long before he could have known where he would end up.

A hug makes good politics

With his public hug, Arvind Kejriwal made a big political and social statement - a statement of equality, a public acknowledgement of his wife's contribution to his political career.

Many women have responded online and it has been much commented on.

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With this gesture, the AAP co-founder has endeared himself to millions of Delhi's women - a crucial vote bank as nearly six million women voted in the capital last week.

It could be a very clever political tactic.

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