The Modi-fied Political Wardrobe

The Modi-fied Political Wardrobe

The second swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet was a poster of the changed visual and sartorial image in Indian politics

Last Thursday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet were sworn in at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, the costuming, styling and visual branding of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)-led Game of Thrones 2.0 in Indian politics got another poster.

At the spellbinding forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the dome of which was lit in tricolour hues, a unique venue for the ceremony attended by 8,000 guests—global leaders, industrialists, film stars—the dress code of those with political clout was unmistakably “BJP”. Simply translated, it meant wearing the Modi jacket in ways Modi does. The second-time PM who brought in an unprecedented landslide victory in this year’s General Election has also been his party’s chief style director ever since he first took over. Now, his wardrobe choices stamp what his colleagues and followers wear.



Attendees at the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the President house in New Delhi.

In fact, long before group photographs of the PM with Team India—24 Union Ministers and nine Ministers of State (MoS) (independent charge) —beamed out, you could count the colours in which the Modi jacket kept returning to the oath-taking platform. Thankfully, President Ram Nath Kovind doing the honours was in a sharp, dark blue bandhgala suit.

While the PM himself, with Amit Shah, now Home Minister and Rajnath Singh, Minister of Defence chose shades of cinnamon for their waistcoats—all worn over white kurta-pyajamas—others were unabashed in their colour cards. Prakash Javdekar, Minister of Environment, wore a pista green kurta with a pink waistcoat, while Shripad Naik, Member of Parliament (MP) from Goa, wore one in parrot green. Narendra Singh Tomar of Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh)—now the Agriculture Minister—arrived in fruity orange.



Narendra Modi (L) looks on as he sits next to Rajnath Singh (C) BJP President Amit Shah (2R) and Nitin Gadkari before the swearing-in ceremony.

Some looks were rather innovative. Like Kiren Rijiju of Arunachal Pradesh who wore a black, white and grey North Eastern textile that had been stitched into a well-fitting waistcoat, with black trousers. Among the most fitness conscious BJP ministers, Rijiju made a good photograph.

Regional pride wasn’t just Rijiju’s styling tactic that day. Dibrugarh (Assam) MP Rameshwar Teli, a former yam processor who is now food processing minister, wore an Assamese gamcha over his dull brick coloured kurta. Then there was first- time minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, a former bureaucrat from Rajasthan who arrived in a yellow and green Rajasthani headgear paired with a rust-orange Modi jacket.


Photo: Twitter\BJP4India

Arjun Ram Meghwal swearing in as Minister Of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises.

Meghwal brought attention to another detail—he came riding a bicycle to the venue as did Gujarat MP Mansukh L Mandaviya. Both claim that it is their mode of transport to work. Simple but smart branding.

Congress Whites and Woven Saris: Not Looming Anymore

The change from the former visuals of Congress’ crisp white kurta pyjamas and Gandhi topis (caps), the latter more visible among party workers in villages to the present day dominance of the Modi jacket, often a strongly coloured one is unmissable. The Congress sticks to its whites of course: former PM Manmohan Singh’s kurta sets are impeccably sparkling. Party President Rahul Gandhi too whose winter bomber jackets (which became a small news item for hacks like us) couldn’t shell Smriti Irani’s spell on Amethi, continues to wears white. Congress has other white riders: Rajasthan man Sachin Pilot or Punjab captain Amarinder Singh whose white shirts remain as crisp as his ongoing victory streak.



National Congress party President Rahul Gandhi (C) arrives ahead of Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

If the irrefutability of the Modi jacket as part of the current male politician’s image is a fact, the absence of handloom-screaming cotton or khadi saris among women leaders is another. Indira Gandhi’s woven saris with stark temple borders, her rudraksh mala, or Sonia Gandhi’s subtler handwoven Ikats didn’t exactly become a trend among younger female politicians. That is if you don’t count her daughter and handloom sari heiress—Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The Sari in Contemporary Politics

A majority of female BJP MPs wear saris too. Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj began pairing her silks and cottons with matching long waistcoats worn over her blouses many years back. That became her style. Meenakshi Lekhi of Delhi, Renuka Singh Saruta of Chhattisgarh or Debashree Chaudhuri from West Bengal to name just a few are also essentially sari-clad MPs. But there is no particular sari “style” that stamps their look.

Punjab’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal, is always finely turned out but in delicate salwar kurta-dupatta sets. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has remained season conscious about her wardrobe—she wears silks in winters and cottons in summers. But if there is a “Sitharaman style” it is her interestingly mixed, contrasting blouses. Case in point was the swearing-in ceremony last week. One of India’s most deserving political leaders, Sitharaman wore a rose pink cotton handloom sari, with a patterned grey Ikat blouse.


Photo: Twitter\BJP4India

Smiriti Irani swearing in as Minister of Textiles besides an additional charge of the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Smriti Irani, yet again Minister of Textiles besides an additional charge of the Ministry of Women and Child Development is a sari wearer too. She wore a rust-maroon red, silk Ikat for the swearing-in ceremony. But is there a Smriti Irani style? There is if you notice her trademark coral and gold pendant strung on a black beaded necklace that she wears around her neck for every public appearance, a gold bangle or two paired with a red glass bangle on one arm and the fact that she clearly loves saris in the red-deep pink-maroon-orange-rust shades. They are all handwoven but she doesn’t espouse any one particular weave.

When you zoom in and out of the idea of “BJP dressing”, the outstanding image is a posse, mostly of men, alas, in Modi jackets of different hues flanking the PM who remains resolutely self-styled. All hands folded. The once Nehruvian garment that the first PM wore in black or dull colours of khadi has now been Modi-fied.–2610