news Saturday, May 23, 2015 - 05:30

At the Child Welfare Society’s Vacation Camp event held in Thiruvananthapuram, a young kid asked Shashi Tharoor why he always wears a tricoloured shawl and he answered, “White clothes are for funerals.”   So why do most politicians dress in white?   Emma Tarlo notes in her book, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India that it started during the independence movement when Mahatma Gandhi urged Indians to wear only hand-spun khadi in order to boycott the foreign goods that were imported from Britain. Khadi-wear, which was mostly white, became a symbol of self-rule or swaraj. Many people around this time started to wear khadi and this became a sign of their support for the Indian freedom struggle.   Today, most Indian politicians are seen dressed in white, and it’s no coincidence. The colour white is more appealing to the masses as it reflects their ideal perception of a politician. For them it symbolises purity and a sacrifice of luxurious pleasures as they expect politicians to be “untarnished” and “clean”, both literally and figuratively. The symbolism of khadi that was prevalent during the freedom struggle no longer fits in today’s present context. Politicians today do not wear white or khadi to represent self-sufficiency; it’s more like an off-the-record dress code.   But there are always a few who do not believe in this norm. After India got its independence, Jawaharlal Nehru stopped wearing the dhoti, a common man’s attire, and started to dress in suits and sherwanis, notes Sankar Ghosh in Nehru’s biography in 1993. The trend, however, is now changing as people want to see politicians who are “untarnished” in their actions and not in their clothes.   "I wanted to break the notion that a politician has to wear white shirt and dhoti, says MK Muneer, Kerala's Minister for Panchayats and Social Welfare. “In fact when I was elected to the Assembly in 1991, white was almost like a dress code. Gradually things changed. Now you have many of them wearing coloured shirts. Simplicity and purity should be in our activities not in dress. Everyone has the right to wear the dress in which they’re comfortable," he says.   Women in politics particularly have never followed this code as wearing plain white is a sign of widowhood. An Al-Jazeera report states how female politicians’ higher sense of individualism can be seen in their colourful handloom saris. Women leaders like J Jayalalithaa are mostly seen wearing strong colours like blue and green while DMK leader, Kanimozhi is always seen dressed in bright attires native to her home state. Speaking to the News Minute, former actress and Congress politician, Khushboo says that we need to change with times as people rarely wear khadi. “I do not relate white to politics anymore and politics does not have a dress code,” she adds.   It’s almost similar to Hollywood films where the saviour would be in white. A fine example of this being Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where initially the protagonist, Marion Crane, is dressed all in white, but when she steals the money, her attire is completely in black, a metaphor for her dishonesty. Even though the authenticity of many politicians cannot be accounted for, many of them still continue to wear white.    

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