It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that following in the footsteps of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi (for astutely choosing very little to wear), Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi is perhaps one of the few politicians in the modern era who is very particular about the clothes he wears, and, consequently, the image he projects. Like the Gandhi topi and the Nehru jacket, his Modi kurta, with half sleeves and a buttoned-up standing collar, is engendering a mythology all its own.
The short-sleeved tunic that he buttons up all the way to his neck was designed by Modi himself. In 2012, speaking at a Google+ Hangout session, Modi said, “I had to wash my clothes myself for about 40 years, and found it difficult to wash long kurtas. I had the sleeves cut short, so that it becomes easy to wash and also occupied less space in my bag. Now, it has become a fashion. Modi kurtas are sold everywhere. My simplicity has become a fashion.”
In his book Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay tells us about his visit to Ahmedabad’s most prominent men’s tailoring establishment, Jade Blue. Owners Bipin and Jitendra Chauhan, who proffer sartorial advice to Modi and tailor his clothes, tell Mukhopadhyay that they sell around 10,000 Modi kurtas every year, and about Modi being very fastidious about his clothes. Modi apparently always likes the length of his sleeve to be a shade longer than his upper arm – “it should turn or fold a bit.”
Modi usually wears the kurta with an undershirt and very often teams it with a well fitted Indian style waistcoat. He seems to be equally in love with the long sleeve version of the kurta, but always buttoned up at the neck.
Modi might stress on the kurta being a simple, traditional garment, but his choice of accessories speak of a fondness for the good things in life. He wears watches made by the the Swiss luxury brand Movado. His pens are from the German luxury brand Montblanc and his spectacle frames are from the Italian luxury brand Bulgari. Modi also seem to have a penchant for stylish footwear and sometimes teams up his kurta with expensive looking shawls. Of course very often, he surprises observers by ditching his staple outfits for well cut suits with cravats, t-shirt and jacket, jeans and occasionally in a Texan style hats.
During his recent election campaign, it was reported that Modi changed his clothes up to three times a day. He, apparently, always carries a comb in his pocket, and is very conscious of the way he looks and personally approves each publicity still. He never wears the colour green and avoids black
The sartorially inclined Modi supporter will be glad to note that, unlike the flashiness his fellow Gujaratis are often are accused of, the BJP prime ministerial candidate is more nuanced. And of course he has also had to reconcile his sartorial choices with the austere ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which he has been closely associated with all his life. This apparently was not easy. When he was still an upcoming leader, his insistence of being well-groomed and wearing good clothes did not go down well with fellow RSS members.
According to Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Modi’s cultivated sense of style also sends out a message. “A possible explanation for Modi not projecting a proletarian look is reflected in the emphasis on glossy development programmes in his tenure. Mega projects like the tallest statue of Sardar Patel on the Sardar Sarovar and Gujarat’s Shanghai, the GIFT City project, are aimed at projecting the state as more assertive and masculine, the same image that Modi has projected through his sartorial and theatrical style. Macho leader of an aggressive people who are far distanced from the Gujarati of yore.”
And since we are on the subject of masculinity, does he really have a 56-inch chest? Modi’s repeated references to his broad chest, which echoes the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s predilection for stripping down to his waist to show off his muscular torso, has consumed acres of print. During the course of writing his book, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay learnt of Modi’s actual chest size, but he does not reveal it in his book. It is probably a lot less than 56 inches.