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Modi Xi summit at Mamallapuram shores

In Tamil Nadu, Modi opts for native veshti

Prime Minister’s choice of traditional Tamil attire set off a storm of speculation.

October 11, 2019 10:39 pm | Updated 10:40 pm IST - Chennai

Tamil Nadu, Oct 11 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the 2nd informal summit at the famous site of Pallava Era in Mahabalipuram on Friday. (ANI Photo)

Tamil Nadu, Oct 11 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the 2nd informal summit at the famous site of Pallava Era in Mahabalipuram on Friday. (ANI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to appear in the traditional south Indian attire of a white veshti (dhoti), half-sleeved spotless white shirt and an angavastram (upper cloth) while hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram, became one of the talking points of the informal India-China summit on Friday evening.

Though he was in his customary kurta when he landed in Chennai in the afternoon, the Prime Minister sprang a surprise when he appeared in the traditional south Indian attire when he welcomed Mr. Xi in Mamallapuram later in the evening. Mr Modi, who has rarely worn dhoti, appeared comfortable in the attire throughout his interactions with the visiting Chinese head of state.

Incidentally, Mr. Modi, who has been the subject of intense criticism among sections of Tamils over the past year, had recently tried to reach out by quoting the ancient Tamil poet Kanniyan Poongundranar in the United Nations and also hailed Tamil cuisine during his last visit to Chennai. His choice of traditional Tamil attire for the informal summit is being seen as an extension of his attempts to allay apprehensions that his government was anti-Tamil.

BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit secretary K.T. Raghavan, however, contended there is no specific intention in Mr. Modi choice of attire.

“Tamil culture is part of Hindu culture and there is no difference between the two. It is natural for him to choose a south Indian attire when he is in Tamil Nadu,” Mr. Raghavan said, but acknowledged that the choice had become a topic of discussion among Tamils the world over on social media.

Will the attire have a positive influence in the minds of the people in Tamil Nadu for the leader and the party?

“As I said, there is no specific intention for the PM to wear this attire. But, it may have a positive influence, while some people are trying to project our PM as anti-Tamil,” Mr. Raghavan said.

It is not unusual for leaders to go in for local attire during various summits, pointed out M. Ganapathi, former Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs. Even during the India-Africa Forum Summit in Delhi in 2015, leaders who took part in the event (except for one) wore kurtas to reflect the local flavour, he recalled.

“It is laudable. It reverberates well with the local population,” he said, speaking of Mr Modi’s garb. Mr Ganapathi replied in the affirmative when asked if the move would have a positive impact on the Tamil diaspora.

Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Madras in Chennai felt there was much that could be read into the Prime Minister’s choice of attire.

“It is known to all that he is conscious of his dressing and appearance. If he has chosen the south Indian veshti for an occasion like this, which is a high-profile meeting, it shows the PM’s confidence and sense of command in the State,” Prof. Manivannan said.

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