Posted on 6 Jun 2017

    6 Things Body Language Experts Noticed About Narendra Modi

    Turns out he's a friendly guy who could use a class in personal space.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an international personality. In the last three years, he has met some of the world's most powerful leaders.

    Stephane De Sakutin / AFP / Getty Images

    On June 3, activist Iyad el-Baghdadi made an observation about Modi that got a lot of people thinking.

    Through a massive list of photos, he demonstrated that Modi is quite a fan of greeting politicians with bear hugs.

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    While the thread went viral on Twitter, it's hardly the first time someone has made this observation.

    Stanislav Krasilnikov / AFP / Getty Images

    BuzzFeed asked body language experts to analyse Modi’s interactions with other politicians, and shed light on what it says about him:

    1. He doesn't understand personal space.

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    Behavioural reseacher Khyati Gupta Babbar noticed that there were way too many pictures featuring people leaning away from Modi when he went for a hug.

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    Imagine the space around us as four concentric circles — intimate, personal, social, and public spaces. People are allowed in these circles based on your relationship with them.

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    So, standing next to friends would mean you're in their personal space. Clearly, when you hug someone, you're in their intimate space.

    "So what the PM is doing without realising — he's hugging very tight and coming too close, breaching the other person's comfort — especially during international meetings," Babbar told BuzzFeed.

    Obviously.

    Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images

    But his meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi wasn't as uncomfortable for His Highness.

    Twitter: @iyad_elbaghdadi

    "The social distance norms are different in the Middle East. Men are more comfortable standing close to each other," Babbar explained.

    2. While most of the people photographed with Modi are not visibly uncomfortable, microexpressions give them (and him) away.

    In this now-famous picture of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Modi, there was a noticeable discomfort on Zuck's end. And the key is in his smile.

    Susana Bates / AFP / Getty Images
    Susana Bates / AFP / Getty Images

    "Zuckerberg's smile is more of a practised fake smile than an instinctive one as his jaw is dropped lower than a usual smile," Minjal Harsora, a body language expert, told BuzzFeed.

    When we look at his interaction with Merkel, we see that although the handshake is neutral, Modi's smile is tight-lipped in the picture. According to Harsora, this is a sign of him "keeping a secret he won't tell, probably due to dislike or distrust."

    Sean Gallup / Getty Images

    3. The PM was not this affectionate in the past.

    In a BBC report, biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay observed that when Modi was Gujarat CM, he was a "bit cold and remote, shaking hands and maybe touching somebody on his shoulders if he knew somebody particularly well".

    For example, look at these photographs of Modi and L.K. Advani from 2003 and 2014.

    Prakash Singh / AFP / Getty Images
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    Watch him interacting with Rajnath Singh in 2008 vs when he was campaigning for the general elections in 2013.

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    4. Modi is neutral and respectful around his female contemporaries.

    Tobias Schwarz / AFP / Getty Images
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    There are no hugs involved here.

    5. He definitely shows his discomfort towards people he doesn't like.

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    As seen in this picture with Arvind Kejriwal, Babbar noted that:

    - Neither of them is smiling.

    - They're not making any eye contact. That happens when we're uncomfortable or shy.

    - They're not fronting each other. (Fronting is when we align our top, toes and torso towards another person as a sign of complete engagement with them.)

    - There are no hugs. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    6. Both experts agreed that Modi is mostly just a friendly guy in the public space, without much training in body language.

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    Babbar agrees that Modi can cause a lot of discomfort for his international counterparts. But it's not intentional. "Most world leaders use body language coaching to get a hang of cultural norms in different countries," she told BuzzFeed. Harsora, on the other hand, says, "Mr Modi's body language is mostly confident, friendly, submissive, and shows trust in the other person."

    Contact Sonia Mariam Thomas at Sonia.thomas@buzzfeed.com.

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