A personal, individualistic label may be given to smiles he has reserved for his selfies.
Messages conveyed by smiles can be interpreted in not one but numerous ways when it comes to diplomacy and politics. It is not really clear as to what should diplomatic smiles, accompanied by handshakes and extending to hugs be really understood as. Clearly plain diplomatic cordiality and perhaps a little of paper diplomacy, if their significance is confined to just smiles accompanied by signatures on some memorandums of understanding. Incidentally, in contrast to his predecessor, United States President Donald Trump appears fairly business-like when it comes to displaying smiles. Critics are likely to raise their eyebrows if questioned about politico-diplomatic importance of his laughter and smiles. And they would probably smile if posed with the same question about former President Barack Obama.
Of late, a new importance has been assumed by diplomatic as well as political meetings over breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. It is difficult to digest the combination of serious meetings with food. Give a thought to host is trying his best to convince the guest of tasty spread at the table. The two sides also have to sort out their differences over quite a few crucial issues at the meeting. Now, should this meeting be labelled as food-oriented or issue-oriented? From one angle, holding meetings over food adds a touch of warmth and also cultural finesse to hospitality. But then let us also give some importance to differences in taste for food and languages within India and outside. Some find Indian food too spicy, Western too bland. By this logic, however appealing and mouth-watering, the table spread may be for eyes, it can be difficult to digest for medical as well diplomatic reasons, leaving the lips and tongue in a ticklish dilemma.
And this leaves “sources” straining their ears for after-dinner comments fairly confused on what/who do they apply these to? Irrespective of whether they are uttered following good handshakes and exchange of smiles, it is a tough job deciding on meaning of comments such as, “too hot”, “cold”, “spicy”, “bland”, “sweet and bitter” or “very funny”. Presumably, the problem becomes more complex for strictly vegetarians undertaking official visits to countries famous for their non-vegetarian menu. Diplomatic smiles, apparently, carry greater importance here.
Ironically, laughter and smiles — whether in good or unintentional humour, can prove fairly dangerous on Indian political stage. Yes, the sarcasm the same can and do invite raises questions about political ethics entertained. Of course, this demands deliberation on whether a comical and/or a serious note be taken of the situation, from the point to what evoked the laughter/smile(s), from whom, where, why and who/what may have caused the same. Yes, at times, one can be caught in a complex situation of whether the situation demands a smile, should be laughed at or be given a straight-faced expression. Being “tickled” with laughter on a serious occasion carries quite a few complexities.
It is not without reason that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has been rarely visible with big smiles. Perhaps, plain caution has guided her not to let this “smile” factor raise controversies about its political intention. Surprisingly, her children, both Rahul and Priyanka have been extremely generous in flashing friendly smiles particularly when out on electoral campaign sprees. And from the beginning, their smiles have received good media coverage and apparently this has let them retain this style.
Interestingly, the nature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s smiles has varied, depending primarily on the occasion. It would not be wrong to accord his bigger smiles, accompanied by handshakes and at times a hug a “diplomatic” stature as they have been normally been visible in his meetings with leaders of countries. A personal, individualistic label may be given to smiles he has reserved for his selfies. Then there is the passport-photo type smile, visible on most of his posters, masks, etc. He is seen with big smiles in company of his close political associates. Undeniably, some credit must be given to his “smiles” having succeeded in being returned with almost equally big smiles in international circles. This includes a smile from President Trump. On the national front, Mr Modi has faltered a little in not being so generous with his smiles. Perhaps, greater research is needed for political, diplomatic and exclusively personal importance he has chosen to accord to his international as well as national image through his smiles.
It doesn’t take much effort for some to smile, even if they be fake smiles. But even a small smile often bears greater value than choosing not to smile and instead opting for cold, stoned, even aggressive looks. It is not for nothing that million-dollar value has been accorded to smiles. Yes, at times, some can err by choosing to smile loudly, unintentionally, at wrong occasions. Creating hype over these incidents only to erase smiles from some faces bears no human, electoral or even diplomatic value. So why waste time and political energy in making noise about these? Instead, a little more importance needs to be given to one of the most popular quotes of Mother Teresa: “Peace begins with a smile.” Politicians need to tap on this investment value of smiles more seriously on Indian domain, for Indians!
The writer is a senior journalist. She has come out with two books Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office