Sandeep Sahu

Who could have imagined that the humble lungi would take centrestage in the political discourse of Odisha one day? But that is precisely what the preferred home wear of millions in the state and elsewhere in India has done ever since Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik was seen promoting his party and its symbol - 'jodi sankha' (double conch) - ahead of the elections clad in it. 

No one knows yet what exactly was the idea behind releasing this promo video/picture of the ruling party head - usually seen in kurta, pyjama and occasionally in jogging tracksuits (whenever questions are raised over his fitness) - wrapped in a lungi on social media? But as soon as the video created a storm in the social media, the spin doctors got into the act trying to link it to the weaver community in the state. Perhaps for the first time in the history of Indian politics, two party spokespersons addressed a press conference dressed in lungis the next evening - to defend the CM wearing a lungi and ridiculing the BJP for mocking the weavers' community. Not to be outdone, the BJP held a press conference to claim that it's an affront to the sensibilities of the average Odia since dhoti - and not lungi - is the traditional Odia wear. In a bid to hit where it hurts the most, the party insinuated that the lungi sported by the CM as well as the two BJD spokespersons were not woven by the weavers of Odisha, but procured from Tamil Nadu. To press the point home further, Union Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan appeared on the campaign trail dressed in dhoti kurta the next day. Ever since, supporters and opponents of the two parties have been engaged in a fierce, no-holds-barred battle on social media over the lungi and its alleged relation (or the lack of it) with Odia "asmita', of all things !! Coming as it did close on the heels of the controversy kicked up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his remarks on the alleged attempt by Congress to snatch away the 'mangalsutras' of Indian women, it proved that politicians in the country would not stop at anything to create a poll plank; not even people's accessories. At this rate, one should not be shocked if undergarments - of men, women or both - become an election issue in the not-too-distant future!! 

While the two principal contenders for power in the state fight it out on the political stage, this columnist has been waging his own battle with his family members - to defend his right to wear a lungi while at home - for the last two decades! All kinds of reasons and excuses have been used by the other side to persuade him to discard the good old lungi in favour of the trendier shorts or - at the very least - pyjamas. The possibility of unwittingly stepping on the lower part of the lungi and tripping over, especially when climbing or alighting on steps, for one. It's another matter that such a mishap has never happened to yours truly in over four decades of wearing a lungi. The next salvo fired by the 'enemy camp' was the rather specious argument that the lungi is archaic and out of fashion. "Look at X. He was wearing a lungi like you till the other day. But now, he too has started wearing shorts." It was met with the counter argument that the lungi can never go out of fashion when the 'Khurda gamuchha' is still trending in millions of Odia homes. "For heaven's sake, don't ask me to do something just because X, Y or Z is doing it". That sealed the win in favour of the lone warrior pitted against a whole army of all-female, anti-lungi crusaders!

When the 'trendy' argument failed to ensure a win, the 'rivals' sought to press home the supposed 'comfort level' of the shorts - and pyjamas. This battle was clinched with the argument that 'comfort' is a highly subjective matter and that there is no 'one size fits all' basis to say shorts are more comfortable than the  lungi. To press the point home, a question was raised over why womenfolk across the state - and across the country as a whole - prefer the maxi/nightie over the saree or the salwar-kameez while at home. "Has anyone ever questioned your right to wear the maxi at home? So, why are you after me?" Left with no further ammunition, the enemies gave up and the lone warrior vanquished the vast army of feminine warriors. 

Also Read | Political hypnotism! Will resentment over social and political issues affect Odisha elections 2024?

Having won both the battle - and the war at large - here is something this writer would like to emphasize. There are a hundred and one reasons that he can offer to uphold his right to wear a lungi. But 'Odia Asmita' is certainly not one of them!!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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