Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Tie That Wasn't

Dear Karan Thapar,

This letter is in response to your article in The Hindustan Times, ‘The Rules of Dress Diplomacy Should Apply to Mr Modi too’ where, in all your wisdom, you analyze Mr. Modi’s Europe visit and question ‘What has Mr. Modi got against ties?’ With Mr. Rahul Gandhi calling the government ‘Suit-Boot Ki Sarkaar’ and your article saying that Modi is not suited booted enough, I find myself in a dilemma.
Just when I thought that the Louis Vuitton shawl controversy was an unintentional goof-up by your colleague, your critique, ‘Is it okay for the Prime Minister to dress ‘inappropriately’?’ makes me pen this letter.

To an observer who has no political axe to grind, you seem to be living up to the image of a ‘Devil’s Advocate’. The absence of a neck tie is all you could find fault with? Is this because Mr. Modi is leaving no scope for meaningful criticism on his foreign policy? I doubt it. From an objective unbiased prism, clearly that is not the case. So why the needless nit-picking?

With none other than President Obama heaping accolades on Modi’s capabilities as a leader, it would appear that there aren’t enough opportunities for his detractor’s to review Modi’s foreign policy. This is not to say that Modi should not be critiqued for his shortcomings. In the absence of a credible opposition, Modi should, in fact be made aware of his inadequacies in larger national interest. Question him on the delay in ‘Achche Din’, grill him about the economy, denounce him for rabble rousing voices, but to lament the absence of neck-ties or to hallucinate about the Louis Vuitton shawl does not reflect well on the quality of the critique.

According to you, "It’s international convention and practice to dress formally on such occasions. All over the world that means a suit and a tie….To defy that dress code suggests either ignorance or indifference to a convention that is universally considered suitable. It could also imply a certain disdain for your hosts, who have meticulously observed the code." Notwithstanding the flaws in your frivolous critique, even if we assume that you are justified in finding fault with the absence of neck ties, I don’t remember you asking similar questions to Dr. Manmohan Singh who seldom wore neck ties. Likewise, we should expect Mrs.Sonia Gandhi  to dress in a business suit like Angela Merkel when she visits Germany. Anything less than a business suit could signify disdain for the host, ‘eccentricity’ and deemed ‘inappropriate’, right? Moreover, if PM's hosts werent offended, why should we 'tie' ourselves in knots over something as inconsequential as a necktie?
It's ironical that a comment on Prime Minister Modi’s sartorial choices comes from someone who is perhaps the only television anchor to dress in a bow tie in what is seen as a colonial hangover by most Indians. Clearly, there is an obsession with the ‘tie’ whether it is a neck tie or a bow tie.
Finally, when you conclude your article by saying, "Mr Modi can be as eccentric as he wants," the banality of your critique becomes obvious. We expect reputed journalists to raise the bar above neck-ties, shawls and suits. Attaching unfairness to disapproval is the not-so-desirable art of analyzing a foreign visit of any Prime Minister.

This article is originally in Opindia.com


  1. A very unlike you post, Alka.

    But I do agree, noted journalists need to rise above petty criticism.

  2. The whole 'dress' thing - whether it is the pin-striped suit, the LV shawl that wasn't - tells me how low the standards of journalism have fallen in some media circles! They can't really find anything intelligent to write about, so they have to come up with such silly-ness. All they are revealing through such kind of stuff is that they are slowly becoming irrelevant in the larger national discourse. Unless they shun their biases and deep prejudices they will soon fade away, which may not be a bad thing if you ask me. A healthy democracy needs intelligent media, not these people who can't think beyond the designers' labels.

  3. The colonial hangover will take a few more generations to wean away! Anyway, the world has gone far beyond neckties and this reminds me of a hollywood flick of yesteryears where the neckties were used as a weapon to murder:)

  4. Karan's observations are bordering on the bizarre and if reflective of what journalism has descended to these days.

  5. Totally agree. Such petty criticism dilute the entire purpose of visits and policies.

  6. I like your take on the article.. it's sorted and points out just the right direction to be focused..!!
    Well written..


  7. Ah! And how about castigating Obama for NOT wearing a bandgala on his visit to India? Or about how disrespectful North Indian politicos are when they do not wear a dhoti in the South or Southern politicians when they do in the North? I have heard of plumbing the depths but this really is burrowing into the sea floor after doing so :)

  8. e expect reputed journalists to raise the bar above neck-ties, shawls and suits. Well said. It's a lesson for journalists. I feel Headlines Today is quite sensational in appeal...lolz

  9. It's amusing that a remark on Prime Minister Modi's style decisions originates from somebody who is maybe the main TV grapple to dress in a necktie in what is viewed as a pioneer aftereffect by generally Indians. Unmistakably, there is a fixation on the "tie" regardless of whether it is a neck tie or a necktie.
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