G20: Sari, kurta, bandhgala make their own Delhi declaration

Red carpets are the turf of designers, brands, bling and photo-ops. Political promenades featuring world leaders are different, but they too have narratives to sell. And the lohit aastaran (or lal kaleen, if you will) at the G20 conclave in New Delhi was no exception, where the messaging went beyond the 37-page declaration and the presentation of khadi angavastrams to dignitaries by the kurta-churidar and Modi jacket-clad Prime Minister.
Sartorial odes to India were the leitmotif, especially for the dinner at Bharat Mandapam though Canadian PM Justin Trudeau judiciously desisted this time. Mauritian PM Pravind Jugnauth was in a


, Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s Indian stole set off her chic black ensemble, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva chose a purple kurta-trouser ensemble while her deputy Gita Gopinath wore a blue and red sari.
Like Gopinath, most Indians may not count the current World Bank chief Ajay Banga as a ‘foreign’ dignitary, but he is; and his discreet dark suits and turbans added to the Bharatiya zeitgeist. And so did his wife Ritu’s shimmery Chanderi sari with gold motifs, a perfect counterpoint to Rashtrapati Droupadi Murmu’s classic off-white Benarasi sari with a contrast zari border, as they posed for photos before dinner at Bharat Mandapam.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wore a dazzling fusion of two types of jamdani weaves in a single sari for her meeting with PM Modi and equally stunning jamdanis at all other events, thrilling connoisseurs. There was also an implicit message. In 2012, when Uppada jamdani got Geographical Indicator (GI) certification in India, Bangladesh pushed through enabling legislation for GI to bestow it on the distinctive ‘Dhakai’ jamdani in 2016.

Japan’s First Lady drapes saree for G20 dinner

Though it is not clear whether Sheikh Hasina met Mamata Banerjee at the dinner, she may be aware that the West Bengal chief minister wants a GI tag for Tangail jamdani woven in her state. Even PM Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, is home to a jamdani weave. That the unique weaving style originated in what is now Bangladesh and spread westwards into the subcontinent can be interpreted as an abiding link or an “issue”, depending on perception.

The world leaders’ spouses’ odes to Indian style ranged from a fresh floral gajra tucked into the bun of Tshepo Motsepe, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s wife, to the stunning zari-bordered green and pink silk sari, matching blouse and bindi elegantly carried off by Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s wife Yuko. She unexpectedly and emphatically stole the show, eclipsing the chikan sari-clad wife of the Mauritian PM, Kobita Jugnauth.
The message was also clear in the sartorial choices of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty: neither wore their Indian heritage on their sleeve too obviously. Except when they nipped in for an early morning puja at the Akshardham Mandir on the banks of the Yamuna, when he sported a floral mala and tilak and she donned a long mehendi green Fabindia


paired with contrasting magenta palazzos and dupatta.
For all other events, it was suit-boot for Sunak, though he wore an Indonesian ikat shirt at the 2022 Bali summit. ‘Proud Hindu’ tweet after the temple visit notwithstanding, too much of a blurring of identities seemed not advisable for a politically embattled desi-Brit PM. His wife was bolder but steered clear of saris. Instead, she relied on her sharp fashion sense, which is finally, grudgingly, getting noticed in the UK.
Displaying political nous, she chose western outfits from Indian-origin designers. A Saloni Lodha skirt and top featuring desi motifs for the dinner, and a dress from Rhea Bhattacharya’s NCR-based Drawn label for a British Council event was clever semaphoring. So what if her mauve dress from half-Indian half-British designer Manimekala for a spouses’ meet turned out to be the same one her predecessor Carrie Johnson once wore, albeit in blue?
Judging by what was worn by the foriegn leaders, spouses and delegates, now Indians, and indeed the world, will get used to the increasing presence of saris, kurta outfits, bandhgalas and bundi jackets at international gatherings.

Watch G20 Summit: Japan’s First Lady drapes saree for President dinner

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