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HomeIndiaAll the PM’s pagdis: What Modi's Independence Day turbans say about him

All the PM’s pagdis: What Modi’s Independence Day turbans say about him

From his first Red Fort look to today, Modi has been front, centre and flashy. Here’s a look at the most anticipated part of his swatantrata stylebook.

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New Delhi: Every Independence Day, citizens of India have something to look forward to ­— a national holiday, a feeling of pride and profound historical significance, helped generously along by solid doses of patriotic feels courtesy Bollywood, shopping discounts — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flamboyant turbans.

While Modi waxes eloquent about vikas and vishwas, Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities, it is hard to take one’s eyes off his colourful, stylish headgear.

Former PM Manmohan Singh almost never switched his trademark powder-blue turban, while India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru stayed consistent with a rose pinned to his jacket.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known to sport a coloured pagdi from time to time, and Indira Gandhi wore gorgeously rich saris, but really, it is Modi who has eschewed the traditional mould of the understated white kurta-wearing politician.

Given that everything is political, there’s no way a media-savvy man like Modi is unaware of the implications of his sartorial choices. ThePrint dives into Modi’s I-Day look-book and speaks to media grooming pros and image consultants to find out what the PM’s turbans tell us about him.


Right from his debut on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Modi has stayed within a specific palette — roughly between 565 and 740 nanometres in wavelength on the spectrum of light, which means the warm tones of yellow, orange and red. In 2014, the newly-elected leader chose a Jodhpuri bandhej safa in bright red with a green trail for his maiden I-Day speech.

As early as May 2014, the media already knew that the PM was a man of many hats — slideshows had been carefully curated featuring headgear from as far back as 2002, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. In 2014, Modi also wore a dumluk, the traditional headgear of the Adi tribe, when he visited Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh.

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on Independence Day 2014 | Twitter: @narendramodi

The popularity of the Jodhpuri bandhej safa, however, isn’t limited to the PM. During campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in April this year, the demand for traditional Rajasthani turbans went up by 30 to 40 per cent in Jodhpur and Jaipur, Deccan Herald reported.

“Whether it’s PM Modi or Rahul Gandhi, the party workers prefer to welcome them wearing safas,” Sanjay Jain, a safa manufacturer in Jodhpur told Deccan Herald.

Atul Sharma, a turban dealer from Jaipur, even attributed the spike in demand to the PM. “Modiji wears turbans for every rally, as well as on Republic Day and Independence Day. Those who follow him as an icon have also developed a taste for safas,” he told Deccan Herald.

Also read: There’s no patriotism without guns and glory in India now – new I-Day song shows just that


This year, along with a checkered mustard-yellow turban with hints of red, green and pink, Modi sported a tricolour pocket square. His outfit was a variation of beige on beige, or muted mustard, perhaps a dull gold.

“When you have someone ready to experiment, break old school norms and try out something new every single time, people are bound to sit up and take notice,” media grooming consultant Shreya Krishnan told ThePrint.

“Mr Modi has a fantastic team of experts who design and style him right, from wearing a different turban at every Independence Day address from the same colour palette to sporting headgear that’s only indigenous. He has created an archetype of leader who wears history and proudly.”

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on the occasion of 69th Independence Day on 15th August 2015. | Image: PIB


Donning a pink, yellow and orange tie-and-dye turban whose fan lacked its signature height, Modi’s headgear derived its flair from the long-flowing train at the back.

“The PM’s turban sported the colours of Rajasthan in the leheriya dyeing technique of the state, but is probably done straight instead of the more popular diagonal style,” Jaya Jaitly, founder, Dastkari Haat Samiti, told the Economic Times.

Narendra Modi on
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on the occasion of 70th Independence Day on 15th August 2016.


It isn’t news that the PM likes to make an appearance, and he does often get what is called a ‘rock star reception’ at various events.

Think of his first ever ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’, hosted at the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi in February 2018. Modi walked onto stage amid poetry, flashing laser lights, and sequin-covered students waiting in the wings to perform.

“He is also narcissistic in his approach and does like to stir things up,” said Krishnan.

And, in 2017, Modi, wearing a yellow, orange and red turban that was back to regular height, got exactly that kind of reception.

“Thunderous applause greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his motorcade arrived at the Red Fort at 7.23 am today, with thousands of people who had assembled there rising to catch a glimpse of him,” PTI wrote of his 2017 address.

Meanwhile, Deccan Herald called him a “Man of style” — “Narendra Modi’s I-Day traditional attire becomes talk of town.

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Nation on the occasion of 71st Independence Day on 15th August 2017. | PIB

”Dilip Cherian, image guru, explains that despite the seeming unpredictability of Modi’s sartorial choices, “he’s still very consistent in what he does”.

“He’s clearly figured out what appeals to people about him, which is the male, macho image, and so everything he does plays around that.”But what about the flowy fabrics and authentic ethnic wear? “Yes, while some of the regional wear can be described as more androgynous in nature, we must remember that it’s always the headgear of the chieftain — the leader,” Cherian says.

Almost all chiefs, except those belonging to the Muslim faith. PM Modi has never worn a skull cap of any kind till date, a fact pointed out to much controversy by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor last year.

“Why does the PM, who wears all sorts of headgears from across the world, refuse to wear a Muslim skull cap?” Tharoor asked at an event in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018. Tharoor also questioned the lack of green in Modi’s wardrobe, and attributed it to the fact that green is associated with Islam.

Also read: Pakistan asking TV and radio channels to run anti-India content on I-Day is sheer hypocrisy


In the last year of his party’s first term, unsure if he would win again, the PM stuck to party colours once more. The red and saffron contrasted brightly against the crisp whiteness of his kurta.

These choices, Cherian said, aren’t perhaps as risky or courageous as they seem.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi addressing the Nation on the occasion of 72nd Independence Day, in Delhi on August 15, 2018.
Narendra Modi addressing the nation on the occasion of 72nd Independence Day on 15th August 2018 | PIB

“To some extent, with greater control over the media space comes a greater opportunity to calibrate, which allows you more adventure because you’re sure of what will get carried. There isn’t that much risk (when it comes to experimenting with clothing) as far as PM Modi is concerned because he’s confident of the outcome either way,” he says.

In 2019, with an even larger mandate than he had before, Modi should feel confident enough to experiment outside of his preferred palette and style. So, can we expect something truly radical this Independence Day?


Today, the PM matched the Indian flag. While he chose to keep his style of turban consistently Rajasthani, in shades of orange and green, his white kurta was offset by a patterned orange seam running down its centre.

The turban has been a carrier of identity across cultures and historical periods. For the Sikh community, it is perhaps the most distinctive symbol of their faith, so much so that an estimated 20 turban-tying centres have been registered in Delhi over the past decade. For the Muslim community, markers of identity have often been subverted to become sources of discrimination. A 2008 study conducted by Christian Unkelbach — a visiting scholar at Australia’s University of New South Wales — found that a Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, and that “people were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters — men or women — even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with school children during the 73rd Independence Day function at the historic Red Fort, in New Delhi | PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with school children during the 73rd Independence Day function at the Red Fort, in New Delhi | PTI

For the Maharajas of the past, the turban was a marker of royalty, power and status — an essence of which a paternal leader like PM Modi must aim to draw from. Rani Laxmibai — who led her own army against the siege by the British on Jhansi — channeled a sense of strength and power reserved for the arena of men, as even she wore a turban and carried a sword.

Today, as Modi took centre stage at the Red Fort, his colours aimed to symbolise the nation — saffron, white and green. One flag, distilled in one leader.

Also read: Superman vs not-so-wild: Only dangerous thing Modi faces with Bear Grylls is wet underpants


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  1. His Turban is really royal and Proud to watch .Gives a feeling of a Strong Maharaja !
    Jai Bharat .Long live Bharat 💓🇮🇳

  2. This Guy Modi would have tuned out to be quite a decent king of Guy if he had not got himself mixed up in bad company at an early age, he should of steered clear of the RSS who have moulded him after their own wicked image.
    Young children are so susceptible to bad influences, the bright kid Modi would have made himself a name in any field. Imagine Modi the Hollywood actor, or Modi the kindly school teacher.
    INDIA is full of bright kids with vey little future, it’s a pity one of the brightest when poor vulnerable was abducted by evil forces many years ago, and later was unleashed on India to cause this widespread harm not only to Muslim but to the great Hindu people as well.
    Jai Hind

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