Decoding the dress codes on the campaign trail…
Now that the elections are done and dusted, and we have a new government in place, I thought it might be fun to look back and see how some of the most high-profile candidates presented themselves to the public. No, not in terms of policies and political statements; that’s been done to death by leader writers in all the newspapers and by anchors on every TV news channel. But in terms of visual image: how they dressed on the campaign trail, and what they hoped to subliminally communicate by their wardrobe choices.
So here, in no particular order of importance, are just some examples:
• Narendra Modi: As he confessed on television recently, our newly-minted Prime Minister has a great feel for colour combinations and what works on him. And on the campaign trail he seemed to have taken a leaf out of the style book of Queen Elizabeth, who always appears in strong primary colours to stand out in a crowd. Working colour blocking like a fashion pro, Modi went from one public meeting to another, resplendent in green, orange, pink, yellow, and every other colour you could think of. And then, towards the end of his campaign, he reverted to the symbolic purity of white, wearing a large kamal ka phool on his kurta, so that his supporters knew exactly which button to press on the EVM.
• Rahul Gandhi: He decided to go for the scruffy, unwashed look, with crumpled kurta pyjamas and a perma-stubble, perhaps to indicate that he was far too busy campaigning to bother with personal grooming. And his sleeveless jacket achieved international acclaim thanks to British comedian John Oliver’s spiel on the Indian elections. “Look at that vest!” exclaimed Oliver about Rahul, “He’s like an Indian Han Solo!”
• Smriti Irani: Pitted against Rahul in Amethi, the country’s favourite bahu, Smriti Irani, made saffron her calling card, wearing saris in the colours of her party’s flag (though to the disappointment of many, she did not adopt the seedha pallav as her character Tulsi had done in Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, in deference to her leader’s Gujarati roots) as she went from village to village canvassing for votes, and giving Rahul Gandhi a good scare in the bargain.
• Priyanka Gandhi: Running her mother and brother’s campaign in Rae Bareli and Amethi, Priyanka seemed to be channeling the spirit of her grandmother, Indira, in her handloom saris, half-sleeve blouses, and tousled, curly, close-cropped hair. Did the sartorial messaging work? Well, both candidates won, in the face of a ‘Modi wave’.
• Arvind Kejriwal: I can’t have been the only one disappointed by the fact that the weather did not allow the AAP leader to sport his patented look of muffler plus cap in the style of Emirates air-hostesses. Instead, he had to content himself with playing the aam aadmi in a white shirt-brown trousers combination and the standard-issue white cap that announced that he wanted ‘purna swaraj’. But, as it turned out, the voters wanted ‘Modi sarkar’.
• Mamata Banerjee: She stuck to the tried-and-tested crumpled cotton sari look which proclaimed her as a woman of the people (or peepuls, as she would have it), even as she spewed fire and venom against her opponents (read Narendra Modi). And when the votes were finally counted, the people proved to be the woman’s.
• Moon Moon Sen: She put a healthy dose of glamour into the campaign, resplendent in her chiffon saris, with darkly-kohled eyes and an oversized bindi large enough to put Usha Uthup to shame. And even as everyone was dismissing her as a lightweight airhead, a complete misfit in electoral politics, she had the last laugh, winning the Bankura seat with ease.
• Nandan Nilekani: True to form, the IT whizkid refused to conform. Not for him the regulation white kurta pjyama, the uniform that all politicians willy-nilly adopt. Nilekani stuck to his lightly-starched white shirts paired with loose trousers on the campaign trail. And even though he lost the election, his fresh, unconventional approach to politics won him many admirers.
• Shashi Tharoor: Even though he is, like Nilekani, a recent entrant into politics, Tharoor chose to stick to the classic simplicity of a white kurta, though he teamed it with the Malayali mundu rather than the north Indian churidar in a nod to local sentiments. Topping it all was a tricolour shawl, to reference both his party colours and the Indian flag.
• Gul Panag: She was my personal favourite, bravely refusing to give in to the politically correct demand of wearing traditional Indian clothes while on the campaign trail. Panag stuck to her blue jeans and short kurtas, though she did drape a dupatta around her neck occasionally to keep the more conservative folk happy. And best of all, she went campaigning on her Enfield motorbike, helmet and aviators firmly in place. What’s not to love?