Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palanisami in classy corporate attire sends out some powerful messages. He chose to present himself in modern, business clothing, which can also be seen as his coming of age as a politico, and this is the point that the meme-makers have smartly latched on to.
There is a popular dialogue in Rajinikanth's Kabali film, in which he tells the villain, "Unaku naan munnuku varadhu thaan prachnana, munnuku varuven, coat suit poduven, kaal mela kaal potu utkaaruvenda, adhu unnala poruka mudiyalana saavuda (If my progress in life is a problem to you, I will grow, wear a coat and suit, sit with one leg over the other, and if you can't tolerate it, go die)."
Of course, this dialogue derived its moral resonance from the fact that the character in the film is a Dalit, who cocks a snook at his historical oppressors by being even with them in their lifestyle and dressing. But the sharp and quick-on-the-uptake meme-makers in Tamil Nadu have quickly and inevitably cottoned on to that now iconic scene by using it for Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palanisami. He had been hitherto seen publicly in traditional white shirt and dhoti, but is now creating a buzz in the UK and the USA in bespoke suit and boot.
Attire is intrinsic to the image-conscious leaders of Tamil Nadu politics. In spite of the fact that almost all the MPs and MLAs are crorepatis, they would be seldom seen in anything other than the humble dhoti and shirt. Many of them shy away from appearing even in standard pant and shirt in public. The subliminal message is that suit and boot is the dress of the rich, who for a society that is weaned on Tamil films, usually represent the forces of evil.
MG Ramachandran, MK Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa - all had their idiosyncrasies in their attire. MGR had his fuzzy Russian-style cap. Karuanidhi was never seen without his dark glasses and yellow towel draped over his shoulder. Jayalalithaa always sported a poncho of sorts over her sari. These accoutrements were not for style, but for some assumed effect. Even in informal settings, these leaders were always dressed up. Their personal pictures in private gatherings were never allowed to surface in public. Even somebody like P Chidambaram, who pretty much belongs to the suit-boot gang, preferred to present himself in a dhoti. It is almost the default uniform of Tamil Nadu politicos.
In the symbolism-ridden world of Tamil Nadu politics, Palanisami sporting coat and tie and making himself comfortable in snazzy corporate room set up is not lost on anyone. In a society that takes its every-day cues from mainstream films, in which the hero making it big in life and profession is usually represented by the fact that he switches from dowdy clothes to stylishly cut blazer and tie, Palanisami in classy corporate attire sends out some powerful messages.
In that sense, the images of Palanisami in classy suits and trendy shoes reflect the confidence of the man who is now ready to traverse beyond the beaten track.
The fact that Palanisami chose to present himself in modern, business clothing can also be seen as his coming of age as a politico, and this is the point that the meme-markers have smartly latched on to. Though there have been jokes and mocking lines in the standard staple of memes, there have also been plenty of pictorial representations that have been accepting of the chief minister's sartorial makeover in this overseas trip.
His image advisors, whoever they are, have so far done a good job. The general feeling among the large cross section of the Tamil Nadu populace has been largely positive. Of course, these are not going to immediately translate into votes during the elections. But these are brownie points that carry a lot of political potential in the future.
The business side of the trip has also so far been satisfactory. After completing the UK leg of his trip, Edapaddi Palaniswami is currently in the United States. There, he met the higher officials of Caterpillar and Ford Motors, who have already invested in the state, and Tamil Nadu was showcased as a preferred destination for investments in the sectors of fintech, aerospace and electric vehicles manufacturing.
According to government sources, more than 16 firms in the US have committed investments to the tune of over Rs 2,700 crore in Tamil Nadu and another firm has signed an agreement for an in-principle investment of Rs 50,000 crore to set up a plant.
If all these on-paper-commitments crystalise into real projects, the industrial situation in Tamil Nadu will look up. And if he can back these efforts with some much-needed sops for the industry, companies will be ready to throw some celebratory parties.
And who knows, Palanisami may even turn up in trendier jeans and t-shirt for them.
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Last Updated 5, Sep 2019, 6:08 PM