At the onset, let’s make it amply clear that the particular type of high-collared, waist-length, sleeveless jacket that was presented to the Korean President, Moon Jae-in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is called a Bandi. The word derived from the Sanskrit word, badhnati, which means ‘to fasten’ or ‘to tie.’
So, before you outrage over whether it is a Nehru jacket or a Modi jacket, know that it is neither.
Prime Minister @narendramodi of India sent me some gorgeous garments. These are modernized versions of traditional Indian costume, known as the ‘Modi Vest’, that can also be worn easily in Korea. They fit perfectly. pic.twitter.com/3QTFIczX6H— 문재인 (@moonriver365) October 31, 2018
A jacket is a jacket is a jacket.
It can be named Nehru or Modi or Shah Rukh Khan, depending on who is wearing it. It doesn’t take away from its cut, silhouette, tailoring one bit. It only helps popularise it. Like it is in the current scenario when our Prime Minister’s humble attire has egged shopping sites to dedicate entire pages to it.
Technically speaking, the ‘Nehru jacket’ is more like the older sibling of the ‘Modi jacket’ rather than a twin. The former is longer, both at the sleeves and in length, while the latter is sleeveless and finishes right below the waist. The former is primarily worn in winter, while the latter is mostly a summer jacket, though it can be worn in winter, too.
The Nehru jacket or the achkan has influenced fashion worldwide and still continues to do so. When the Beatles came to India in the ‘60s, they surrendered their sanity to eastern spirituality and took with them more than Ravi Shankar’s sitar and bead necklaces — they took with them the Nehru jacket.
The Indian influence. And the 'Beatles Jacket'. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Several pictures of the band show them donning the same, and it doesn’t take one more than a second to notice that they were all long-sleeved. What’s more, they were even re-christened as the 'Beatles jacket' in the United Kingdom.
See how it takes after the one popularising it?
Interestingly, the Nehru jacket, as well as its younger brother, the bandi, was itself heavily influenced by Western tailoring. The sleek cut that Jawaharlal Nehru donned was a far sophisticated version of the bandi traditionally worn by farmers. It is not difficult to imagine that British tailors, available in colonised India at the time, might have used their skills to transform the rustic look and feel of the jacket into something of a fashion statement for the world. After all, Nehru was the first prime minister of independent India.
Hold it by the collar! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
We’ve since spotted variations of the Nehru jacket with multiple degrees of creative liberty on Sean Connery’s James Bond, Leonard Nimoy’s Mr Spock — even Mike Myers’ Dr Evil.
The Modi jacket, however, not so much.
Now, the particular sleeveless variety has been worn by several politicians apart from Modi, even before he popularised it. I’ve seen my father rock it over his pristine white dhoti-kurta ensemble for the last 30-odd years. I’ve always heard him refer to the piece of garment as a ‘waistcoat’ devoid of any political colour.
Jacket as you like it! (Photo: YouTube screen grab)
These jackets have also made it to the New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, irrespective of whatever they’re called. Ranveer Singh has added his signature quirk, Govinda has added his poppy personality, and Amitabh Bachchan has added gravitas to it, only making it richer, never controversial.
So, if it is such a problem for today’s argumentative Indians to give it a name, let’s simply call it a waistcoat. Let’s strip it of its political agenda, let’s cut off its pop-culture influence as well if you may, hem it with the Indian-ness it truly stands for — and let’s make it fashionable again.