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Narendra Modi's Sartorial Style Statements, a Narcissistic Extravaganza?

Updated on January 30, 2015
Farewell Namaste by FLOTUS and POTUS
Farewell Namaste by FLOTUS and POTUS

No sooner had POTUS and FLOTUS completed their farewell round of namaste's on the successful conclusion of their Indian visit and Air Force One carrying them was airborne and became a speck on the distant horizon, than tongues started wagging. Critics waxed eloquent about the unabashed narcissism allegedly showcased by Prime Minister Modi in terms of his penchant for stylish and unmistakably expensive threads. During his one-to-one meeting with the US President and the subsequent press meet, Mr.Modi had donned a rich, deep blue suit, with his full name 'Narendra Damodardas Modi' embroidered all over, which sent the social media network abuzz with criticism and awkward questions. Is he a humble politician in the service of the nation or a proud peacock showing off its colours? Hadn't President Obama mentioned that the Prime Minister was getting only three hours of sleep a day? Why would a 'hard working' Prime Minister fritter away his time and focus on such wasteful displays of vanity? How expensive were his expensive suits, any way? Is he a genuine human or a tailor's dummy, a mannequin? Is there an alien hiding within him, waiting to surface at the 'appropriate' time? Is India safe in his hands? Social media and print media were surfeit with questions, with no replies forthcoming. At least, not a word from Mr.Modi himself or from his party circles. The couture circuit which was waiting with bated breath to discuss Michelle's fashion sense was bewildered by the hijacking of the course of the events by Modi who had turned the spotlight on himself with his latest style statement.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi

Berserk Goes the Opposition

Could Mr.Modi catch cold and the opposition Congress party not sneeze? Nah.... I didn't think so either. Eyebrows were promptly raised, with Mr.Modi apparently lowering his guard.The party lost no time in going to town crying foul over the unthinkable and the most unkindest cut of them all dealt by the teamaker catapulted to the highest office of the land by circumstances; and seized the opportunity to wield the question of the emperor's new clothes as a big stick to beat the offender of public norms and political decorum with. Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi accused the PM of misusing public money for getting himself a suit of Rs.10 lakh during the US President's visit. There was more in store by way of upbraiding by his party spokesmen who attributed the 'deplorable' act of Mr.Modi wearing his name intricately woven all over the suit countless numbers of time to megalomania, narcissism, delusion of grandeur and such invectives against the man in the hot seat.

The astute politician that he is, with an effective PR machinery working overtime to boost his image both at home and abroad, Modi did not simply put on a suit one fine morning and turned the spotlight on himself.Throughout his election campaign across the length and breadth of the country during the Lok Sabha election of 2014, he had stolen hearts and the limelight with his 'Modi kurta', bright sleeveless jackets and flamboyant headgear. He sported a flaming red turban during his Independence Day speech on 15 August last year.

He made yet another style statement at the Republic Day parade this year during the US President's visit when he wore an elaborate tie-and-dye turban with a formal black suit. The red, green and orange turban with white dots was hand-dyed using the 'bandhani' technique that is practised mostly in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

What is Mr.Modi up to? Hadn't he always claimed to be a simple man with a modest lifestyle? Known as a natty dresser, he was always careful not to live in ostentatious style despite his penchant for Mont Blanc pens and Bulgari frames. Having become the undisputed leader of the country, has he chosen to go for a course correction and building up of the Modi brand with PR gimmicks, his detractors asked. Or is this the real guy, his claim to simplicity and a frugal lifestyle in the pre-poll scenario a mere facade, a Trojan Horse?

Modi's controversial suit
Modi's controversial suit

Uncharitable Comparisons

It has transpired that Narendra Modi was not the first celebrity to wear an expensive suit with his name emblazoned all over. Hosni Mubarak, former Egyptian President, former Argentine President Carlos Menem and former world heavy weight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, had beaten him to it and had worn suits with their names bandied about across the attire. Regrettably, none of these people was known either for his fashion sense or for a blemishless or illustrious career. Hozni Mubarak's political career had an ignominious end and he had to stand trial by a military court over mass unrest against his rule. Menem was arrested in a weapons export scandal and found guilty of aggravated smuggling. Holyfield is best known for having his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson. Hopefully for Mr.Modi, the similarity with Mubarak, Menem and Holyfield ends at the style of their suit.

Narendra Modi and Barack Obama at Press Meet in Delhi

Do Clothes Make a Man?

Notwithstanding what the Media has to say about Mr.Modi's dress sense, one wonders what the people at large expect of their politicians. Do they want their politicians to be well-groomed and well turned out in dapper clothes or be seen in crumpled kurta pajamas or dhoti? The average Indian politician is far too casually dressed and ill-groomed unlike his Western counterpart to inspire confidence in the onlooker. A two week stubble and idiosyncracies like chewing beatle leaves or a wad of tobacco completed his way of lacking in style and helped in being counted one among the multitudes of faceless Indians. An uncharitable critic would readily observe that there isn't really much to distinguish between a common man and a con man in the way they dress. Indian politicians, again not totally unlike their counterparts all over the world, have their own unprincipled ways of holding divergent views on the same issue in different sets of circumstances, unscrupulous ways of striking deals with their ideological opponents for mutual benefit and, in general, feathering their own nests at the cost of public good. They vie with one another in chanting in the public that truth alone triumphs and agree privately that whatever triumphs is the truth. In short, ends justify the means. Such being the mould in which Indian politicians are cast notwithstanding their proclivity or subscription to divergent political ideologies, with a negligible exception or two, they take great care to be looked upon as benefactors of the public and not as the beneficiaries of the far-from-the -perfect political system that the people of India have inherited. In their endeavour to look not too distinguished to be dubbed an outsider, they are seen in the public in simple clothes worn by the people in the private. Their excesses and indulgences in matters which come loaded with principles of morality or ethics are kept closely guarded secrets, away from the prying eyes of the Media and the public.The gullible masses are naïve enough to believe that their political leaders remain one and the same in their public and private lives.

Modi and his red turban
Modi and his red turban

Political Leader with a Difference

Along comes a poltical leader with a difference, as a refreshing change. He wears his heart on the sleeve and dedicates his life to the nation's service. He willingly gives up his right to claim for a private life, keeps his family members as far away from himself as feasible so as to ensure the tragedy of their getting inextricably meshed up in his official dealings to the detriment of the ideals of public life and his own unblemished image. Being neither an angel nor a fairy and having no claim for perfection or martyrdom like a Mahatma, he remains contended with simple pleasures of life. Such is the kind of leader that Narendra Damodardas Modi happens to be.

What You See is What You Get

Doesn't his cleanliness drive christened Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, dedicated to the memory of the one and only Mahatma modern India has had, reflect Mr.Modi's uncompromising position on cleanliness in his private life? Doesn't his reaching out to his fellow countrymen which has resulted, time and again, in his being accorded a Rock Star status by thronging crowds of Indians living overseas, reflect his feeling of endearment to the cause of the people he has sworn to serve? Doesn't his ingenious Man ki Baat session of address to the nation reflect his sense of oneness and non-alienation from the people he considers his family?

The kind of the political leader that he is, Narendra Modi has no qualms about being a careful dresser. He takes great care to be well-groomed. The clothes he wears not only complement his personality but also vindicate his being rooted to the ground and Indian traditions. He dons clothes with elan and style unique to his persona. The high water mark of compliments for his style statements came from a dear friend of his when Barack Obama said at the banquet hosted in his honour by the President of India that he would like to wear a Modi kurta.

No Excuses

Wearing an expensive suiit by the tallest leader of the country, holding the highest office of the land, is per se no big deal notwithstanding minor details of the issue such as the cost of the suit. If, in the process of doing an innocuous thing or two, without compromising your principles and the high standards of public life, some feathers are ruffled, you could only say "Oops!" So, here goes "Oops!"

© 2015 Kalyanaraman Raman

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