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To India now where the prime minister, Narendra Modi, is noted for making bold statements in policy and fashion. When Modi sported a suit with pinstripes - pinstripes that spelled out his name in tiny gold lettering - it raised more than a few eyebrows. But that same suit raised well over half a million dollars when it was auctioned off today. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Modi debuted his selfie suit at a bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama during his visit to India last month.
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MCCARTHY: With his pastel tunics, richly-colored scarves and lavish headdresses, focus at times shifted to Modi's eye-catching wardrobe. Even President Obama called Modi a fashion icon who could join the ranks of First Lady Michelle Obama. But the suit with pinstripes, fashioned from letters vertically spelling Narendra Damodardas Modi, caused a sartorial stir on social media. Opposition parties ridiculed Modi as hypocritical for wearing an expensive suit, some reports claimed, cost nearly a million rupees, or $16,000. Siddarth Varadarajan is a public policy analyst and senior fellow at Shiv Nadar University. He says the auction was damage control, but wealthy bidders have only revived the controversy.
SIDDARTH VARADARAJAN: The fact that you have sycophants who can have no conceivable use for this item of clothing further cements the idea that the manner in which Mr. Modi's leadership has been projected is extremely unhealthy in any democratic society. This kind of stuff, you know, it's, on the one hand, goofy. It's also very, very creepy.
MCCARTHY: Modi got the suit as a gift from a businessman who wanted the prime minister to wear it at his son's wedding. Modi may have run afoul of the very ethical guidelines he endorsed when he took office. Government ministers are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than 5,000 rupees or $80. Despite the negative publicity, Modi's suit was the star attraction among 465 gifts that the prime minister received over the past eight months. They were auctioned off to raise funds to clean the Ganges River. Mukesh Patel was one in a series of bidders, and says he offered a 10 million rupee bid as a way of honring what he calls Narendra Modi's star power and heroism.
MUKESH PATEL: Mr. Modi is hero - superstar of India.
MCCARTHY: By the time the gavel came down today, a father and son - diamond merchants from the prime minister's home state of Gujarat - had claimed the suit. They paid a whopping 40 million rupees - $642,000 for the privilege [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio version of this story incorrectly states the amount of the winning bid for Narendra Modi's pinstripe suit. It was actually 43.1 million rupees, or about $694,000] and endowed the suit with the status of a ceremonial robe. Tonight on his show, "That Was The Week That Wasn't," comedian Cyrus Broacha said he thought the auction was so successful it was worth emulating. He sold off his own suit.
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CYRUS BROACHA: We got nothing, not a single bidder. And we thought that since the prime minister has auctioned off his suit, maybe he'll also bid for our suit 'cause he'll be needing a suit, but no such luck.
MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.
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