Indian politicians in a battle of style and branding

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Mr Narendra Modi arriving for a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Left) and Congress Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (right).

When Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, 63, was pronounced his party's prime ministerial candidate last month, he wore the outfit of choice for Indian politicians - a kurta pyjama... in lime green.

"He is a power dresser and he is not shy about experimenting," said Mr Bipin Chauhan, co-owner of the Jade Blue clothing chain in Gujarat.

Mr Chauhan, Mr Modi's personal tailor for more than two decades, has tracked his famous client's burgeoning fashion sense.

"He used to wear only whites, but now he wears bright colours and also light pastel shades in silk or linen," he said. "But his favourite is cream colour."

The kurta pyjama, a loose long tunic and long pants popular across South Asia, and often layered with a vest, may look like a politician's uniform, but a lot of thought and effort goes into the choice of cut and colour, especially in this era of 24/7 media coverage.

For example, while Mr Modi favours colour, his younger rival, Mr Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old vice- president of the Congress party, is a traditionalist, sticking to a crisp white kurta pyjama at public rallies and political meetings.

Though his great-grandfather Jawarharlal Nehru made famous the hip-length coat with a mandarin collar, Mr Gandhi prefers to keep it simple.

"Clothing is very important for branding a politician," said Mr Harish Bijoor, a business strategy specialist.

"You know the moment Modi wears colourful clothes, his age profile comes down. He has a need to look younger ( to appeal to younger voters) while Rahul needs to look older (to be taken seriously). Fundamentally, that's it."

Prices start at 2,500 rupees (S$50) and there are many subtle variations of the kurta pyjama. The tunic can be flared or tight, long or short, with side slits of varying lengths. And they can be worn with vests or jackets of different styles.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch L.K. Advani, for instance, prefers vests with three buttons while younger politicians, those in their 20s to 40s, like their kurtas in the slim fit.

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