Saffron Here, Saffron There, Saffron Everywhere!

But it was NT Rama Rao, Not BJP, who Introduced it to Politics Decades Ago

A dash of saffron is in the air, literally so!

Since the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath became chief minister of India’s most populous State, Uttar Pradesh, a regular splash of saffron is hard to miss on the country’s television channels.

It became even more pronounced after the Shiv Sena MP, “Goon” Gaikwad, slapped a 60-year-old Air India duty manager last week, triggering endless debates on TimesNow on the VVIP culture rampant in the country. This made another saffron-clad participant, Vijay Krishan of the Shiv Sena, notorious with his desperate attempts to defend “Goon” Gaikwad.

Saffron dashThere have been some occasional bursts of saffron in the past when the likes of Swami Nithyananda landed themselves in polemics of the salacious kind.

NTR, the Pioneer

In politics, though, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is viewed synonymously with saffron, it was the late chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, NT Rama Rao (NTR), who famously pioneered it by wearing ochre robes to the Legislative Assembly in the 80s.

The intent of NTR, who was the second superstar from filmdom (after MGR in Tamil Nadu) to become the chief minister of a State, was to project himself as a leader who had renounced all worldly pleasures.

He was an award-winning film actor, so dabbling in dramatics in public life came naturally to him. The theatrics one sees in Mr. Modi, therefore, does have a precedent.

Jaipal Reddy quote 2As if to make a mockery of NTR, another MLA from the opposition camp also came to the Assembly wearing saffron robes and beads. That led to pandemonium in the House.

Jaipal Reddy’s Jibe

Reacting to it, one of the opposition leaders then, Mr P Jaipal Reddy, said in jest: “Now the real sanyasis will be wondering whether to stick to saffron clothing.” Mr Reddy went on to become a Union Minister and was in Dr Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet until the Congress was voted out in 2014. A respected parliamentarian, Mr Reddy had earlier also served the Cabinet under the Janata Dal.

NTR himself appeared to have taken the fracas over saffron calm, saying: “I was guided by my own philosophy of life when I took to wearing saffron robes. I will not feel insulted if anyone else comes dressed in a similar manner.”

Immaculately Dressed

Mr Modi in saffron is not an uncommon sight. He has a sartorial sense of attire perfection – always immaculately dressed, whatever the colour of what he wears.

Modi and vivekananda

Despite the growing popularity of Mr. Modi and the BJP, saffron robes may not become a spectacle among politicians. Even if it does, it is the prerogative of individuals to don it.

Whether the devil wears Prada or whether the fakes strolling in ochre are mocking the real saints, even as some present a picture of simplicity and humility, it is not for anyone to turn judgmental.

Importantly, no one can take offence at the choice of individuals if it remains just a striking display of colour without degenerating into a show of strength and leading to a sea of red.

G Joslin Vethakumar


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Filed under BJP, Indian Politics

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