Politics of a handshake

Catherine Fieschi on the significance of the political gesture, be it a handshake or a peck

The World Today
2 minute READ

Catherine Fieschi

Director, Counterpoint

On a recent visit to India, Prince William had a meeting with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, and shook hands with him in front of the cameras. Nothing unusual about this, except the lenses caught the imprint of Modi’s grip on the prince’s hand once retracted – livid white marks that remained for a little too long.

Although the handshake was meant, ostensibly, to be enthusiastically welcoming, the crushing gesture’s implications could be dissected by everyone, except for the manhandled Prince, who was cornered into behaving in the most culturally acceptable manner for a British Royal: looking at the cameras and thinking of England, or Wales as the case may be.

But beyond the paparazzi speculation, it is worth asking what role these globally mediated greetings and gestures play; what messages this body language of politics and diplomacy can convey. In an age of soft power and ‘handshake diplomacy’, what do these gestures imply?

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