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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

India's Modi sails through confidence vote with rival's embrace

Despite the government winning a breezy 60 per cent of the votes, the debate lasted 12 hours 

A woman watches a news television debate about Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's hug to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a no-confidence motion in parliament, at an electronics store in Kolkata, India, July 20, 2018. REUTERS
A woman watches a news television debate about Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's hug to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a no-confidence motion in parliament, at an electronics store in Kolkata, India, July 20, 2018. REUTERS

India's ruling party sailed through a confidence vote in a theatrical parliamentary session which saw a startled Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraced by his chief political foe.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in no danger of losing its first confidence motion since taking power four years ago, which was prompted by a minor party walking out of the governing coalition.

After a marathon 12 hours of debate, more than 60 per cent of the lower house voted in the BJP's favour, but the vote was overshadowed by the theatrics of bitter Modi rival Rahul Gandhi.

The opposition Congress party leader crossed the chamber during the debate to give an awkward embrace to a seated and clearly surprised Modi.

"You can abuse me and call me names but I don't have any hatred towards you," Gandhi said to cheers from Congress lawmakers just before he hugged his rival.

This grab made from video provided by Lok Sabha Television, a government-owned parliament channel, shows Congress party President Rahul Gandhi hugging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seated, during parliament proceedings in New Delhi, India, Friday, July 20, 2018. Gandhi accused the government of failing to live up to its promises as the Indian Parliament on Friday debated a no-confidence motion moved by the opposition against Modi's government. (Lok Sabha Television via AP)
A video grab provided by Lok Sabha Television, a government-owned parliament channel, shows Congress party President Rahul Gandhi hugging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Lok Sabha Television via AP

After gathering his wits, Modi called Gandhi again to shake hands and pat his back, and the opposition leader winked mischievously at Congress colleagues after returning to his seat.

Congress later voted against Modi's government despite the brief bonhomie on the parliament floor.

The hug has since gone viral on social media and endlessly dissected non-stop on India's cable TV channels and went viral on social media, with some praising Gandhi's apparent gesture of goodwill.

"Earlier opposition parties... always managed to transcend rivalry at certain crucial moments," said independent analyst Shiv Vishwanathan in comments to the Hindustan.

"Today, Rahul Gandhi captured that history."

But Modi was less convinced of Gandhi's sincerity, later telling parliament he was confused by Gandhi's "childish" behaviour.

Modi and Gandhi's running war of words has escalated since polls showed a decline in the BJP's popularity, fanning hopes of an opposition comeback in next year's elections after a Congress rout in 2014.

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