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  Life   More Features  19 Apr 2019  Politically correct fashion

Politically correct fashion

Published : Apr 19, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Apr 19, 2019, 12:02 am IST

While political correctness has seeped into the dressing style of leaders, do they really help in connecting with the masses?

Congress president Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chat during a rally at Jarar’s Mandi Samiti Ground in Agra on Monday. (Photo: PTI)
 Congress president Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chat during a rally at Jarar’s Mandi Samiti Ground in Agra on Monday. (Photo: PTI)

The fashion statements that politicians making these days are giving Bollywood stars a run for their money as the constant inflow of actors has lent to Parliament an air of grace, elegance, colour and style. Now, the attire of our representatives is not only limited to kurta-pyjamas or dowdy sarees but also garbs of silk and khadi.

While politicians are becoming more fashion-savvy, their sartorial choices are getting more distinct. Starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made the traditional jacket his own with various colours and has brought white churidars back, the younger generation is now subtly changing fashion dynamics.

Undoubtedly, dressing for politicians can be tough. They have to look appealing and presentable and while also retaining the mass connect. Going back in history, one can see how leaders made a style statement while connecting non-verbally with their constituents: Jawaharlal Nehru with his long coats, Indira Gandhi with her khadi and silk sarees, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee with his white dhotis. This distinct style is not restricted to national leaders. Regional strongmen and women like Vasundhara Raje, Mamata Banerjee, Sachin Pilot and Jayalalithaa, among others, have also shown the world their trademark attire.

Urmila MatondkarUrmila Matondkar

Coming closer to the present generation, 47-year-old Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — who has been in the limelight ever since she joined the Congress as a general secretary — has made it a point to don sarees in all her appearances after filing her nomination to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi.

Her personal branding and local touch give one an impression of her associating with the masses. From the wearing Lucknowi sarees in Lucknow to donning the bordered saree in West Bengal, her choices seek to display her association with the local culture and people.  However, Priyanka carries off the informal look with panache in her personal appearances. In all her Twitter posts, she is seen in western casual wear, which she pulls off very well. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi’s kurta-pyjama look is only restricted to his rallies and public appearences. However, the Congress president looks pretty comfortable in whatever he wears, just like his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Interestingly, actress-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar has also been seen donning khadi and cotton sarees and kurtis from the day she joined the Congress. Her social media platforms are also reflecting her political avatar. While dressing seems to have become an important part of a neta’s personality during campaigns, one wonders if it improves the janta connect and to what extent?

Hema MaliniHema Malini

According to image consultant Chetnaa Mehrotra, dressing is a complete image-building trait. It is more of role-playing exercise where attire is used as a medium to show that politicians are like ordinary people and are aware of their issues. “As they play the role of a politician, they definitely have to connect with the people by being grounded through their dressing. And, to connect with people, they have to look like a part of the crowd who connects with them,” she says. It is a subconscious notion that people connect with their leaders’ dressing and it has been an essential part of Indian politics. Chetnaa further elucidates that through dressing, these leaders also try to convey a message that they stand for democracy and the emancipation of all. “These are the key statements that they project through their dressing and especially by using fabrics like khadi and cotton. It is an indirect way of communicating that they believe in freedom of expression,” adds the image consultant.  

Asked about Urmila’s transformation from Rangeela girl to a Congress leader, veteran fashion designer, Ritu Kumar says the actress looks comfortable during public appearances. “She can’t wear a bikini or fancy clothes when she is in public. She is absolutely dressing for her path and being a people’s leader, she should look like them,” says the designer, who believes that handloom and khadi help make any political leader more approachable for the public.

The trend has continued for years now. Even before Independence, the minimal attire Mahatma Gandhi wore was a fashion statement for the rest of the world.

He showed that he was among the poorest people in India and he embraced the loincloth. Ever since he came to India, Gandhi — the barrister from South Africa — gave up the gentleman’s suit and opted for a dhoti and a piece of cloth to wrap around his upper body. For him, it was his way to relate to the people.

In recent visuals, some politicians are going a step ahead with their fashion statements. “I think the whole thing is about image building in the sense that you don’t want to stand out like someone in a three-piece when you are among the people in a village who are standing in the scorching heat. People need to relate to you,” says Political analyst Badshah Sen. In terms of outreach on the ground, he further sees light at the end of the tunnel with young leaders visiting their constituency far more frequently. “I am happy to see that, nowadays, young MPs are visiting their constituencies far more frequently than the old days and that too in different climatic conditions. They now dress like normal people, which is a good thing,” he insists.

While the young leaders are trying their best to make themselves more relatable to the masses, sometimes it looks bizarre when some politicos play the role unconvincingly. During PM Narendra Modi’s last few visits to the Northeast, he was seen wearing the headgear of Nagas and Mizos, in an apparent bid to connect with local culture and its people. Recently, Hema Malini of Mathura constituency in Uttar Pradesh was seen getting off from a Mercedes in a chiffon saree and harvesting crops. “At times, it is odd to see leaders’ dramatic transition with their dress up in order to connect with people and appear like a commoner. If it is done with a positive thought, then there is nothing wrong in making a style statement. They should work for the people they try to connect with,” concludes the analyst.

Tags: priyanka gandhi vadra, urmila matondkar, 2019 lok sabha polls