4 outfits in 8 hours – how Modi used clothing choice to cultivate Uttarakhand, Himachal voters
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clothing choices have been key to his political message wherever he goes and his two-day trip to Uttarakhand this week was no exception. During his appearances at Char Dham shrines and at a public meeting on Friday, Modi was pictured wearing four different outfits over a period of around eight hours.
With his choice of clothes, the Prime Minister appeared to express his respect for the traditions and culture of Himachal Pradesh – which will go to the polls on November 12 – and Gujarat, where elections are due to be held later this year.
That he dresses to the message adds to the depth of symbolism vis-à-vis Modi’s support base. If he celebrates Diwali with the army jaws or releasing cheetahs in Kuno National Park, Modi’s outfit is appropriate for the occasion and amplifies his message to supporters and detractors alike.
“Modi is the only politician in recent times who knows about sartorial symbolism and cultural symbols when addressing a political constituency. It uses such symbolism to reach people and invoke a sense of emotion, local pride and nationalism,” said Harish Thakur, professor of political science at the University of Himachal Pradesh.
He recalled how the Prime Minister wore Uttarakhandi topi during his Republic Day speech this year, just months before elections in Uttarakhand. “It was to strike a chord with the people and every leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand used that ceiling during the elections,” Thakur said.
Taking inspiration from Modi, Gujarat BJP leader CR Paatil had hundreds of thousands of these caps made specifically for the party’s election campaign in Gujarat, a BJP leader who did not wish to be named told ThePrint.
“When the Prime Minister visits army posts or Diwali or other occasions, he wears the uniform to identify himself with the jaws and send a message of nationalism to voters,” another central BJP leader said.
Four outfits in one day
When Modi come at Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun on Friday morning, he was seen sporting a plain white kurtas with a multicolored printed stole.
Later, while offering prayers at the Kedarnath shrine, he wore a ‘chola dora‘, the traditional dress of the men of the Gaddi community of Himachal Pradesh. Photos of Modi in a long white flowing coat (chola), with a woolen belt (Dora) and one topi pahari were widely shared. It was Modi’s sixth visit to Kedarnath in the past eight years.
He was then seen wearing a black down jacket with a yellow stole when visiting the Sanctuary of Badrinath.
Later, for a public meeting in the village of Mana, he wore a gray buttoned overcoat which he matched with a gray stole and a pair of gloves.
While in Uttarakhand, the Prime Minister has also inaugurated connectivity projects worth Rs 3,400 crore in Chamoli district and laid foundation stone for two cable car projects and road widening projects.
Significance of ‘chola dora‘
Fashion would have moved back ‘chola dora‘ set donated by women from the Chamba district of Himachal. Bharmour in Chamba is known to have a large Gaddi population, except for parts of Kangra – which has 15 assembly seats – and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Prime Minister enjoys popularity among female voters who voted for the BJP in large numbers in Gujarat (2017), Himachal Pradesh (2017), Bihar (2020) and Uttarakhand (2022) – the four states where the BJP resisted anti-incumbent sentiment. In Himachal, for example, more women than men voted for the BJP in previous parliamentary elections.
The woolen coat he wore at Kedarnath on Friday was embroidered with symbols such as the swastika – which means prosperity in many cultures – and a peacock feather, often associated with Lord Krishna. The chola is sewn in such a way as to allow the men of the Gaddi community to transport lambs during the migration.
The multicolored Dora around the waist usually weighs about 2 kg and helps Gaddi men carry a load on their backs. And the topi pahari – a favorite of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister, the late Virbhadra Singh – has signaled to people in the hill state the importance the BJP attaches to their way of life.
Modi’s visit to Badrinath and Kedarnath – among the most revered shrines for Hindus – and his choice of clothes, the weekend before Diwali, is likely a message to Hindu BJP voters, especially in eastern states. Himachal and Gujarat.
The prime minister has a “special bond with Himachal”, said Kishan Kapoor, the BJP MP for Kangra. “During Kullu Dussehra, he (PM) wore Himachali cap and Himachali shawl. He also presented Himachali artifacts and a shawl to former US President Donald Trump during the latter’s visit to India,” Kapoor told ThePrint.
Kapoor, while pointing out that Modi was in charge of the BJP for Himachal Pradesh more than 20 years ago, said the PM “knows all the customs” of the people of Himachal. He further added that Modi has “insisted on improving connectivity between the two mountainous states” of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Like most elected leaders around the world, Modi uses his choice of clothing as a way to signal his intentions to his supporters. His attire – often targeted, situational and flexible – highlighted the idea of ’sabka saath, sabka vikaas‘, and ‘sabka libaas‘ (clothes).
(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)