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Last Updated Monday January 27 2020 05:50 AM IST

The French president’s makeup and other sartorial musings

Sachidananda Murthy
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The French president’s makeup and other sartorial musings

The top functionaries of the central and state governments are often well turned out. In North India, most government office holders have climate-appropriate wardrobes. There are also demands of formal dressing for official and ceremonial functions, especially for the president, vice-president, prime ministers, governors, chief ministers and senior officials. Many a time, the spouses who accompany the dignitaries too have to be formally dressed, depending on the ceremonial occasion.

While military officers get a clothing allowance for regular and ceremonial uniform, bureaucrats of the level of joint secretary and above too get a fixed allowance for getting either suits or bandhgalas (close collared jackets) stitched. Lady officers, meanwhile, opt for good quality sarees.

India rarely sees a controversy over the personal get-up of its leaders. The two prominent exemptions were when prime minister Narendra Modi wore a suit with his name written in the pinstripes for a meeting in New Delhi with visiting American president Barack Obama, and when Congress leader Shivraj Patil changed his clothes several times a day when he held the home minister's office.

Modi, upset by the criticism of wearing a very expensive suit and seeing how it was exploited by the muffler-clad Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly elections of 2015, had had the suit auctioned in Surat, and a Gujarati businessman bought the suit for over Rs 3 crore.

Patil's supporters had defended the sartorial choices of their leader saying the leader had been wearing crisply ironed, spotless clothes from his younger days, and had always paid from his own pocket for the many suits in his wardrobe.

Now the new president of France is in a controversy over the personal expenses for himself and his wife. It is revealed that the president's office had spent 26,000 euros (nearly Rs 20 lakhs) over a three-month period for the young president's makeup. There have been popular protests about giving an official status with office, staff, and allowance to the first lady Brigitte Macron.

In India, however, monies spent on the constitutional office holders are not specifically audited by the comptroller and auditor general of India and goes under general expenses of Rashtrapati Bhavan, vice-president's office, and prime minister's office.

These office holders pay a specific amount towards the maintenance of kitchens in the residential area, whereas the central kitchen in Rashtrapati Bhavan caters to ceremonial and official dinners, lunches and teas. In the case of the vice-president and prime minister, catering is done by a special kitchen of the Indian tourism development corporation, which has the highest security clearance.

The three constitutional office holders have a retinue of personal staff, including an attendant who looks after their grooming. Only when the president or prime minister addresses the nation on specific occasions, especially from studios located in Rashtrapati Bhavan or prime minister's office, makeup artistes from Doordarshan headquarters are asked to be on standby. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who had set up a full-fledged studio would only ask for a comb from the make up the team to spruce up his appearance.

It was Usha Narayanan, wife of K.R. Narayanan, who insisted that she should have an office to receive visitors and perform her duties as the first lady. Similarly, an office was allocated for president Pratibha Patil's husband Devisingh Shekhawat. RTI queries about specific expenses are not entertained by Rashtrapati Bhavan or prime minister's office, due to protocol and security requirements.

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