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29 January, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 28 January, 2017 08:56:58 PM

Of turbans and jackets

Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister whose dressing style is often in the news
Kumkum Chadha
Of turbans and jackets

It is true Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s Prime Minister got attention but it was less his achkan, knee length coat, and more his rose in its buttonhole that captured people’s imagination. But that was then. 

 Later his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who ruled India as Prime Minister, did attract attention with her very beautiful sarees that she donned day after day, but that remained a women thing, as it were. 
 Prime Ministers like Morarji Desai, Manmohan Singh did very little to wardrobe news. Rajiv Gandhi’s did catch the eye but it was more for his looks than clothes. His good looks overpowered his neat dressing and he, at best, was dubbed as a Prime Minister who was well dressed. 
 Equally Rajiv Gandhi did not add any style to his dressing except being well turned out. Yes, for some months, his shawl draped carelessly around his shoulder caught the eye. Or the fact that he was among the few politicians who wore shoes with a kurta pyjama. But it stopped there. 
 Once Modi emerged on the national scene, things changes dramatically. For his first address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, a few months after he was sworn in India’s Prime Minister, Modi wore a turban. Style apart, it instilled in every Indian a sense of sanctity of the occasion. 
 In India turbans are usually worn on auspicious occasions. They are visible during weddings more than on other events. In this sense Modi’s turban, elevated the Independence Day to a level Indians had failed to ever bring it to: a festival and a celebration of India’s freedom. His first speech also electrified most of those who had tuned in. 
 The turban story did not end even while Modi has toned down his dressing. Till the controversial suit that Modi wore during  US President Obama’s India visit, his dress was always a topic of interest. However, he drew flak when he donned a very expensive monogrammed suit with his name pin striped  through the fabric. The controversy assumed unsavoury proportions.  It was then decided to auction the suit. 
 As against this, the Modi kurtas have had a free run. They were in the news when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat and they continue to be when he assumed the country’s Prime Ministership. 
 In what has become a rage in Gujarat and some other parts of India, the Modi kurta had a humble beginning. 
 By Modi’s own admission he used to lead a life of a vagabond and he cut off the sleeves of his kurta because it was easy to wash and iron a kurta with half sleeves than one that had long sleeves. It was, he reportedly said, as simple as that but later the humble kurta became a rage with shops opening special Modi kurta counters. According to an on line store, the price range of a Modi kurta is between one to three thousand rupees. Those who don’t want to pay only need a pair of scissors to chop off the full sleeves and make them half. 
 But back to the turbans that Modi has popularized as Prime Minister. Like in the past, this Republic Day too, Modi followed a tradition set by him: of donning a turban on national days. 
 He wore pink and got an instant thumbs up from women across the country. One tweeted: 
Pink revolution – even the PM is wearing a pink turban!....Showing his metrosexual softer side….
Another tweet was about the demonetization. It went something like this: Namo ki gulabi pagri, 2000 ke gulabi note jaisi…a tribute to the new 2000 rupee note that is also pink in colour.
Pink also proclaims a new beginning and Modi therefore not only made a style statement but more importantly, weaved in a national message there. 
Prime Minister Modi had donned a pink woven turban lined with silver. It appeared to be kota silk from the state of Rajasthan: an ultra light weight fabric that drapes very well. 
It was that which stood apart as India celebrated its 68th year of being a Republic.  Modi coupled that with a dotted charcoal grey jacket and the trademark  pocket square. 
It is the first time in India where a prime minister’s attire has caught the fancy of Indian designers.  Some called it a “great fit” while others saw his choice of pink as the “colour of festivity, of celebration and joy”, marking India’s strength, marching forward into the future. Another felt that Modi’s look struck a “perfect chord”. 
On occasions before this, Modi has donned a turban but it has been in loud colours: red, green, and saffron. The sublime pink was a departure. Some found it a bit subdued.  
 Opinions differ on whether Modi should have used a vibrant colour. In this debate the jacket went somewhat unnoticed. In fact it was clearly a designer’s pick: befitting the occasion and fitting Modi perfectly well. 
It is true that after the monogrammed suit controversy Modi has toned down his dressing but his love for clothes and style is intact. Now every dress of his may not make a statement but on occasions that are special, he does stand out. 
This brings us to a key question: is this a departure from the simplicity Indian politicians must symbolize? Or is it important to switch from clothes being non consequential to their occupying centre stage in a  politicians life? As things appear in Modi regime, the latter seems true. Politicians in current times think and believe that appearance is as important than thought and deeds. One should and does not cancel the other and politicians have no qualms about stepping out in style: given that Modi has taken the lead.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at:



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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