From a persona non grata to a new fashion icon — that’s how a stunning election victory has transformed Narendra Modi in the eyes of the American media as Washington prepares to welcome India’s new Prime Minister, possibly in September.
As if on cue, three major US publications — Time, New York Times and the Washington Post — have all written about his trademark ‘Modi Kurta’ as they try to “decode India’s new leader” ahead of his September summit with President Barack Obama.
“India’s New Prime Minister Is the Country’s Latest Fashion Icon,” says Time suggesting “With his shortened tunic, or ‘Modi Kurta,’ Narendra Modi is becoming as celebrated for his style sense as he is notorious for his controversial political past.”
Paired “with Bvlgari shades and a Movado watch (he’s got penchants for them both),” Modi’s “ensemble is about as mixed as his record as a political leader, really,” it said.
“While his leadership of the state of Gujarat ushered in some of the most impressive economic growth the country has ever seen, questions remain over his role in a string of riots in the state in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people dead,” Time said.
But then it hastened to note parenthetically “He has been officially cleared of any wrongdoing.
(The customary attire of the Prime Minister— fashionably called the ‘Modi kurta’ — is already a registered label in India.)
The New York Times sees in “Narendra Modi: A Leader Who Is What He Wears” saying “Even by the standards of a world…the image-craft of India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi – and its fashion fallout – has been something of a case study.”
“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 …Mr. Modi stands out. Literally and strategically,” says Time.
“It all speaks to Mr Modi’s success in associating his personal style with his political platform, to the benefit of both,” says the magazine.
“Objectively speaking, the Modi Kurta itself does not exactly represent an extraordinary aesthetic advance; rather it symbolizes a set of values. And therein lies its allure,” it adds.
Probing “what Narendra Modi’s fashion says about his politics,” the Washington Post says: “Move aside, Michelle Obama. The world has a new fashion icon.
“And no, it’s not Vladimir Putin, despite his fitness regimen — it’s India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.”
“Countless articles have been written about his look, from his vast collection of hats to his iconic long tunic, the #ModiKurta. Yes, it has its own hashtag,” it notes.
“Although Modi has a carefully cultivated Hindu nationalist image, it doesn’t mean he isn’t a fan of European designers,” the Post says.
“His glasses are said to be Bvlgari, and his watch is Movado, two brands at odds with his traditional Indian look but in keeping with his pro-business ideology,” it adds.
In another piece in Time, Tunku Varadarajan dilates on how “As Narendra Modi stormed into the consciousness of the world beyond India, analysts everywhere scrambled to interpret him for their readers and viewers.”
Modi, he notes, has been likened to Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ariel Sharon, Shinzo Abe and Deng Xiaoping, Vladimir Putin as also Turkey’s Islamist-democrat Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Meanwhile, at the State Department spokesperson Marie Harf again recalled that Obama and secretary of state John “Kerry have both said, we look forward to welcoming the Prime Minister to Washington.”
But she had “nothing to announce on dates. I know there are a lot of reports out there about dates, but we don’t have dates yet.”