Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why Should Politicians Be Khadi-Clad?

It isn’t easy if you want to look like a policeman even for a day. You have to get a khaki uniform stitched — and God alone knows where you can get those stars and the badges and, above all, the cap from. Ditto if you want to look like an Army or a Navy officer. Even a lawyer, for that matter. Unless you are friends with a film ‘extra’ who can guide you to the shop that rents out stuff for shootings.

But to look like a politician, all you need to do is walk into the nearest Khadi Gramodyog store and buy yourself a white kurta and a pajama and, perhaps, a waistcoat. Go home, change, and there you are! — a politician. If you want to look like a hardcore Congress politician though, you may have to don the Gandhi cap, though one is not sure where you get them. Interesting question: where do you get Gandhi caps? And why are they called Gandhi caps? Gandhi, at least in the pictures we see of him, never has a cap on. Except in the few pictures of his younger days when he had just turned into a political activist from a lawyer. (According to a friend, the Gandhi cap is a khadi replica of the prison cap worn by all black convicts in South Africa during those days).

In any case, even Congress ministers and politicians hardly wear those caps these days: they have discarded the cap just as they have discarded Gandhi’s principles. Sitaram Kesri was perhaps the last Congressman to faithfully don the cap till he died a few years ago. He had prostrated and placed the same cap, as a mark of loyalty, at the feet of Narasimha Rao when the latter was the Prime Minister. The occasion was Rao’s birthday. But when Rao ceased to be the Prime Minister, the same Kesri forcibly replaced him as the Congress president. Soon after, Kesri himself was forcibly removed to make way for Sonia Gandhi. He died a heart-broken man.

With his departure, the Gandhi cap went completely out of fashion. It doesn’t matter much because the Gandhi who Congressmen worship today is not Mohandas but Sonia. Wait, this is not yet another column on dynasty-bashing. It is about khadi being the uniform for politicians and why I think it is time they discarded it.

The khadi, during the freedom struggle, was a symbol of economic independence. It made perfect sense for politicians, who were the torch-bearers of the struggle, to wear khadi. But today the word ‘politician’ evokes general hatred. People identify it with greed, lust and selfishness. And bearing the brunt of the hatred is the khadi uniform: anyone wearing it is considered to be evil and scheming. The villains in most of the present-day movies, Hindi or Tamil or Telugu, are khadi-clad. The khadi-clad, pot-bellied man is often the object of ridicule in cartoons and comedies.

To shed the ‘evil’ image, they need to shed khadi. They should learn from IT minister Dayanidhi Maran. He dresses up like any other office-goer who knows his job. Such an image instills confidence in people, who have lost faith in the khadi-clad breed which only knows how to seek special privileges or make empty promises.

By the way, what do you or your dad wear to work? Shirt and trousers. That’s the common Indian’s attire, described in the common man’s language as ‘shirt-pant’. Then why should politicians, who are supposed to be representatives of the common man, wear something different? Wouldn’t their constituencies identify more with them if they wore a shirt and a pair of trousers?

But then, we practice politics of symbolism. We cling to symbols even when they lose their relevance. Khadi was relevant then, but today India is no longer a nation nursing the bruises from the freedom struggle. Today it is considered as an emerging superpower. At a time when the art of dressing is an industry in itself, why should politicians stick to something that is reminder of a bygone era and something that inspires only cynicism? They too should dress up to inspire confidence — in themselves and in the people. They should learn to look cool.

The new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is in news these days because of his clothes. Recently, when he went meeting heads of states across the globe, he kept his alpaca-wool pullover on. Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, as Presidents of their respective countries, did not wear dark suits when they visited the Taj Mahal. They just wore T-shirts. Even Musharraf was dressed rather casually, in a Chinese-collared shirt, during his summit meeting with Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra.

One reason why they looked cool is they are trim. Clinton worked out, Putin is a judoka, while Musharraf is a former commando. Indian politicians, who often sport a generous paunch, might not look so cool in a T-shirt after all. But that’s the point: why can’t our politicians have trimmer tummies and fit into T-shirts and inspire the nation into being fit and healthy?


Blogger Deepa Bhasthi said...

I so agree with you.
I wonder how journalists got stuck with the Khadi, long beard and jhola sporting image?
the steotypical image is cliched today but that is the first thing that comes to mind.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said/written.

"Clothes make the man" they say and for a large indian population that follows personalities over issues, what can you expect? Khadi and Gandhi cap are not even symbols now; so bad is the image of politicians as you have rightly pointed out.

Though I have the hightest respect for him unlike some others, P.Chidamabaram appears dapper in a proper suit than his normal attire.

As for looking trim and alim, another thought could be that why can't the oldies retire for people are actually young like the leader of the conservative party in Britain who retired at 67 when the party lost. How can anybody continue to look slim and trim forever. Actor Dev Anand is a case in point.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i dont agree with you......
khadi today is as relevent as gandhi's thought's if you find them irrelevent too than up to you else khadi to me is depection of simlicity, purity, calmness, silence and at the same time strength. talking about politicians they have made the name of khadi a symbol of 'evil' not khadi made them , so it would be better to criticise poiticians then khadi..... thats all for today!!!!!

6:50 PM  

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