In my memory of having reported on every prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi in1984 there has been none who inspires the kind of near manic if partisan adulation that Narendra Modi does. Of course, there was a period soon after Gandhi won an unprecedented mandate that he enjoyed what could be called a comparable following. However, it was nowhere close to as ideologically assertive and voluble as it is for Modi.
Yesterday, while waiting for the prime minister to reach the New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, I had a sampling of that virulent enthusiasm. Indian men and women, predominantly Gujarati, turned out in large numbers and appeared as if they had had an indescribably blissful awakening triggered by Modi’s presence. I saw a man, dressed up in the full Indian regalia of maroon red dhoti with intricate bordering in golden thread, an embroidered kurta and a long streak of read smear on his forehead animatedly talking on his mobile phone. He was sweating and as a result his tika had begun to spread like an alien organism gradually taking over his forehead. He sounded both ecstatic that he was there where Modi was but was equally concerned why the person he was talking to on phone had still not shown up and missing out on deliverance. He was talking so loud that for a while I wondered about the necessity of having a phone at all.
After Modi obliged the waiting throngs with personal greetings via a walkthrough, there were many who still looked dazed and overcome. I overheard someone say, “Narendrabhai no lal coat joyo? Boss, hoon pan evo sivdavis.” (Did you see his red—it was actually burgundy—coat? I am going to get one stitched like that?).” The last time I heard any Indian comment specifically on what the prime minister wore was when Rajiv Gandhi used to wear his padded vests during Delhi’s winter but that was about it.
In Modi’s case his entire wardrobe, which seems to be considerable and whose number is not known, has been a matter of great interest. I doubt very much if that burgundy bandhgala will make an appearance again anytime soon or ever. There is no way to find out but I am curious to know the number of clothes he is carrying on this visit. After all, the official jet that he travels by has to be rather empty what with the media having been kept out of it. My guess is that for his five-day visit he must be carrying at least 15 to 20 pairs. Unlike prime ministers before him, Modi does not always wear the preferred white churidar and kurta. His colors are varied and eclectic. For his formal meeting with President Barack Obama he may settle for the more sober black bandhgala and trousers but you never know. It may be for the first time that the White House will have a male head of state as a guest who might take the attention away from the First Lady’s much talked about fashion choices.