“The two things I hated as a journalist were ties and TRPs," says Ashutosh, former managing editor of news channel IBN7, now an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member. Ashutosh’s career switch also led to a change of garb. Sharp suits and silken ties gave way to casual sweaters and black, checked mufflers wrapped gamcha style. “I belong to a small village near Gonda district in Uttar Pradesh where electricity and roads are still an issue. Almost everyone in my village wore a gamcha—a multi-purpose piece of unstitched fabric used to shield against the cold in winters and wipe your face in summers," says Ashutosh, who uses only one name. He believes there is a link between a person’s clothing and his roots.

MP Ramya in a Raw Mango sari
MP Ramya in a Raw Mango sari

“In post-Nehruvian India, Khadi became a much maligned term. It got linked with Indira Gandhi’s assertions, with cracks in the Congress and for those growing up in the 1970s, it got subconsciously associated with corrupt politicians," says Ashutosh.

No wonder Khadi doesn’t find a place in powerful wardrobes. “When younger politicians like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot or Akhilesh Yadav wear bandhgalas, they are made from suiting materials. And they prefer fine linen to Khadi for shirts or kurtas," says a senior political writer who doesn’t want to be named. She says she observes an emphasis on “net worth" and “power" among men in politics, beamed through their expensive watches, Montblanc pens and, if they belong to south India, the dazzle of thick gold chains.

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia in a Lehriya sari. Photo: Parabhakar Sharma/Hindustan Times

If Mayawati’s craze for faux leather bags is noticed, so are the contemporary handloom saris of Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s kurtas.

Kurtas in vibrant colours, with shorter lengths and shorter sleeves, Modi kurtas are available in Gurjari stores as well as on select websites. While Modi’s, or NaMo’s, branded glasses (Bvlgari and Gucci) and his public appearances wearing Gucci scarves, show us his need to appear sophisticated, the traditional headgear he wears in the regions he visits is indicative of his effort to connect with locals. “Indira Gandhi used to wear the local dress where she went and Modi copies that," says dancer and social activist Mallika Sarabhai, an AAP member now.

BJP’s Arun Jaitley in a Kashmiri shawl. Photo: Manoj Verma/Hindustan Times
AAP member Ashutosh wearing a muffler wrapped ‘gamcha’ style. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times

Holding up regional identity through clothes is unavoidable in a country with diverse cultural currencies. With a host of political ideologies and lobbies, regionalism becomes an obvious statement. In an interview to Mint Lounge in October, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman spoke of her fondness for Kanjeevaram saris from the time she was growing up in Tiruchirappalli.

Gandhinagar. Gujarat. Photo: Mahendra Parikh/Hindustan Times
Gandhinagar. Gujarat. Photo: Mahendra Parikh/Hindustan Times

Last month, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, AAP member Shazia Ilmi and senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi made for an interesting photograph while debating democracy. Joshi wore his trademark dhoti-kurta, flat-fronted cap and woven angavastram. Ilmi came wearing the AAP topi with her churidar-kurta ensemble. “Everything is politics; even without realizing, we dress up as who we are or what we support in life," says Ilmi, citing the MGR movement and its connect with vests, towels, shirts, shawls that got splashed on posters across Tamil Nadu.

Rewar, Haryana. Photo: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times

In Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun And Modern India, scholar Lisa Trivedi talks about Khadi becoming the “geo-body" of the nation. “The visual language of the movement created a map of the nation distinct from the territorial divisions of pre-colonial and colonial India," wrote Trivedi. But in contemporary times, no fabric, garment or style has come close to becoming a singular logo of India.

Udaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times

There is a resurgence of Khadi, but as an outstanding “non-statement"; just a political voice-over . A scaled-up fabric in Indian fashion, it has become diminished in our politics.