An official photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
NaMospotting is in full bloom in Delhi. The country’s commentariat spots everything—from his endless supply of immaculately stitched kurtas to his list of dos and don’ts to his ministers and bureaucrats and from his punishing work schedules to his insistence on cleanliness, NaMospotters are in overdrive these days.
I don’t remember any prime minister in the last four decades, with the possible exception of Rajiv Gandhi, who has been watched so minutely and commented upon so frequently as Narendra Modi. It says something about the man that in less than 15 days after assuming office a fashion and style writer of The New York Times— “The” New York Times, no less—felt compelled to write a piece about his sartorial preoccupations. “Indeed, even by the standards of India itself, where leaders have perhaps understood the use of clothing as a communication device better and longer than any of their international peers (see: Mohandas K. Gandhi’s adoption of the dhoti, Jawaharlal Nehru’s jacket, and Indira and Sonia Gandhi’s saris, made from traditional Indian khadi), Mr. Modi stands out. Literally and strategically,” wrote Vanessa Friedman in the paper’s Fashion and Style section under the headline ‘Narendra Modi: A Leader Who is What He Wears”. At the very least, it seems Prime Minister Modi can create his own fashion line if nothing else.
While I am on the subject of fashion and style, one has always noticed how Indian politicians have to wear heavily starched clothes because of the fabric of choice is invariably khadi. In its natural form, khadi is limp and in desperate need of stiffness. Starch is khadi’s Viagra, if you will. The stiffness lasts several hours. When I see the kurtas, both full-sleeved and half-sleeved, that India’s new prime minister wears, I get the sense that they do not even need hangers. They just stand erect on their own in one long row of a kurta infantry unit waiting to be picked up in the morning.
Coming back to NaMospotting, the Indian media has been paying close attention to his way of doing things. For instance, there have been reports about how the prime minister went around his South Block office soon after taking charge and not-so-subtly pointed out ‘No Smoking’ signs to those in smoke-filled offices and used tea cups littering the space. Those of us who have watched Modi’s style functioning in Gandhinagar know that he is so anal about order and cleanliness that there could well be some noteworthy psychology to it.
Modi’s favorite tailor-cum-stylist Bipin Chauhan has been quoted as saying, “Modi had once told me he cannot compromise on three things: his eyes, his voice and his clothes.” It is a striking combination to be so concerned about for a hard-charging politician. In effect, he has distilled politics to three main attributes—eyes because they always give you away, voice because that they carry your convictions and clothes because they visually encapsulate who you are. Of all the useless NaMo trivia thrown about these days to get a serious insight into the man, I think these three are the most revealing.
NaMospotting is a thing now but there will be a shelf-life to it, which will probably last another week or so. After that the humdrum of governance is bound to take over. Colorful kurtas that can stand on the strength of their starchy spine and eyes that sparkle can after all go only so far. After that, life must come down to its lowest level of existential stresses and strains.