Narendra Modi has a political image as a bold man of action, willing to make tough and disruptive decisions in his quest for modernize India and offer prosperity. His sartorial style has complemented this personal brand.
Unlike other male politicians in India, who usually wear austere white cotton and hand-spun uniforms reminiscent of the independence struggle, Modi developed a distinctive suit of well-fitting kurtas, often with half sleeves, paired with sleeveless jackets. brightly colored sleeves or sticky patterns. .
His well-trimmed beard completed the look, accentuating the essential masculinity of his popular appeal. “It was the well-dressed corporate dress, minus the dress,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of a 2013 Modi biography.
But Modi’s appearance has changed drastically during the pandemic. Well-trimmed facial hair has become the long disheveled beard of a Hindu ascetic. Her short hair, once short, is almost shoulder length. Gone are the bright colors, changed to white, beige and soft earth tones, except when the saffron of Hindu holy men is put on.
Political analysts believe that what probably began as a typical “closing beard” is now part of Modi’s effort to reinvent himself politically as a spiritual master – instead of the highest temporary authority – in the midst of the devastation of India’s coveted crisis.
“Modi the leader has become Modi the sage,” says Mukhopadhyay. “He wants to project that he is the only person with the ability to lead India through something completely unprecedented.”
A close political partner of the Prime Minister told me that Modi “incorporates the holy language” of Indian politics into his personality to comfort the people in a time of “great uncertainty”.
But Christophe Jaffrelot, a scholar at King’s India Institute in London, believes Modi’s new style of Hindu sanctity is meant to help him evade responsibility for his treatment of the pandemic and difficult economic times forward.
“It is a way to emancipate oneself: to be the sage, who is above politics and policies“He no longer responds. It’s a way of indicating that he’s the ruler, but not the man in charge of the government. It’s very easy to be seen as ‘irresponsible’ when you are considered who does not make decisions “.
Mukhopadhyay agrees that Modi’s transformation gives him “an element of divinity in the minds of voters and isolates him from political criticism.”
While Modi may seem to be giving up worldly worries, his aura is unlikely to fade in the eyes of his devout Hindu supporters. In the ancient myths of India and the historical Hindu kingdoms, the spiritual advisers of the rulers exerted as much influence as the kings themselves.
Modi’s approval ratings are currently at 64 percent, among the highest of the world’s leading leaders. “By looking like a guru, he doesn’t necessarily appear as powerless,” Jaffrelot said. “According to Hindu tradition, the most powerful man is the man who gives advice.”
Modi’s shifted focus, from material progress to spiritual elevation, is also manifested in his monthly radio addresses in the nation. These have gone from talking about government development programs to advice to tackling difficult times.
“It’s a discourse on well-being, not a discourse on well-being,” Jaffrelot said. “The government cannot redeem the promises it made. Better to say, ‘I’m not playing this game. I am no longer trying to develop India. “He is telling people how to behave, how to be a good person, how to be happy and how to be proud of one’s identity.”
The adoption of Modi by the appearance of the renounced, the last of the four stages of the human life cycle of the Hindus, has attracted much attention in India. Jaffrelot believes the transformation is likely to be irreversible and that it will have a greater focus on cultural issues and the search for a Hindu nationalist agenda in the upcoming elections.
But Hindus also have a deep tradition of promising not to cut their hair until certain desires are fulfilled, to offer them to the gods in gratitude. So Modi may still have more surprises up his sleeve.
“One day, I might start talking on TV and say it will sacrifice hair,” Mukhopadhyay said. “He has a tremendous dramatic style. We don’t know where the script will go. “