India PM's 'saris with a message' urge voters to wear heart on sleeve
The sari is being deployed as the latest political weapon in India's elections as the world's largest democracy prepares to go to the polls.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unveiled the "political saris", hoping the women's garments would act as mobile billboards for voters making up their minds in the coming weeks.
India's election commission announced yesterday that the country's electorate, numbering more than 900 million, will go to the polls in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, with the results due on May 23.
The first big campaigning stunt by the incumbent BJP was to launch the new saris, with pictures of Indian soldiers, fighter jets and Narendra Modi, the prime minister, printed on them.
They were unveiled yesterday at the state BJP headquarters in Jaipur, Rajasthan, as party leaders hoped a rise in nationalism after the recent conflicts with Pakistan would encourage supporters literally to wear their loyalties.
Last week, "airstrike" saris in shades of cream, saffron and green, as well as camouflage ones, became popular as the Indian government's fiery rhetoric prompted a wave of patriotic fervour.
However, several sari vendors were left embarrassed after tweeters pointed out that their garments actually bore images of American forces, not Indian.
The saris, however, may end up falling foul of the "model code of conduct" during election periods.
The election commission asked to keep the military out of campaigning, saying the armed forces are "apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy".
The memo was issued on Saturday after billboards featuring BJP leaders such as Mr Modi and Amit Shah, its president, along with the Indian air force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, appeared around Delhi. "Everything is possible under PM Modi," the new billboards read.
After the dates were announced, Mr Modi wrote on Twitter: "The festival of democracy, elections are here. I urge my fellow Indians to enrich the 2019 Lok Sabha [parliament] elections with their active participation. I hope this election witnesses a historic turnout. I particularly call upon first-time voters to vote in record numbers."
Mr Modi had kept an intense schedule in the last fortnight as his administration tried to announce several policies and schemes before the code of conduct period was triggered. (© Daily Telegraph, London)