What’s in a name, the bard had asked many centuries ago, and argued that a rose will smell as sweet if called by any other name.
The time has come to twist this famous Shakespearean quote in the context of India’s biggest diplomatic spectacle that is due to unravel ten days from now and ask this question: What’s in a dress?
Ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he will give the answer: a lot.
An instance of this will be seen soon when India hosts the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi (26-29 October). The Modi government is all set to unleash a unique sartorial diplomacy.
In this unusual form of diplomacy, never practiced by India thus far, the government is going ahead with a plan to have a collective photograph of all the leaders from the African continent wearing kurtas.
The IAFS (India Africa Forum Summit) secretariat in New Delhi has asked leaders from Africa who will be attending the event at the Indira Gandhi Stadium to send their measurements so that traditional Indian kurtas can be stitched and presented to them to wear at a group photo opportunity during the summit.
The response from the African leaders has been overwhelming and “a substantial number” of the African leaders have done the needful already.
Is PM Modi trying to enforce a dress code for the summit? This is the first question that comes to mind.
The answer to that would be in the negative. That would be most ridiculous way to look at this little episode. On the contrary, the government is trying to pull off a piece of sartorial diplomacy that was never practiced before.
The move is not a fiat but a request. It is not mandatory. Yet, as noted earlier, a substantial number of African leaders who have confirmed their participation at the event have already sent their measurements. As many as 52 of the total of 54 African countries have confirmed their participation for the event.
Secondly, it will be just a kurta and not a complete kurta-pyjama set that the African dignitaries are being requested to wear. A kurta is something that the African leaders can wear along with trousers or attire which is unique to their respective countries.
Kurtas will look good on both men and women. One of the African leaders to be attending the summit is a woman.
Now let’s come to the inevitable question as to why India is playing this sartorial diplomacy in the first place.
There have been several instances at many international gatherings where the leaders wore the local dress to give a message of oneness. East Asia Summit has been a prominent example.
World leaders have donned local Batik shirts to project this message of oneness at the EAS. Prominent world leaders like US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have worn local Batic shirts at the EAS.
The Modi government is simply trying to replicate what has successfully been done at various international platforms many before. No world leader had ever objected to this sartorial diplomacy.
Lastly, one clarification will be in order. The kurta won’t be a half sleeve one- the kind that Modi wears and has made it his trademark sartorial statement. It will be a kurta with full sleeves.
One will have to see how many African leaders actually end up wearing these kurtas at the group photo session. But whenever they do, it will definitely make a visually arresting statement. Get ready for this folks.