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Gandhi topi: from politicians' wardrobe to drama costume

By Lalit K. Jha

NEW DELHI, APRIL 11. A symbol of the country's freedom struggle and part and parcel of the political spectrum till recently, the Gandhi `topi' seems to have lost its relevance in the first general elections of the 21st Century.

It is not that there are no takers for the Gandhi cap -- as the once popular headdress is still being sold at several Khadi outlets across the Capital -- but the cap, which was a must for every politician, has now finally disappeared from the wardrobe of even the Congressmen.

Managers of the popular Khadi outlets at Connaught Place and Chandni Chowk reveal that the Gandhi `topi' was now being purchased only by school students and members of cultural troupes, who wear them for special events and programmes mostly related to the freedom struggle. "It has now become a part of the drama costume," said a Khadi shop official at Chandni Chowk.

"In fact, the Gandhi topi is mostly in demand during August 15 and January 26 functions when school students purchase it in large numbers," said Ajay Ahluwalia, showroom in charge at Connaught Place. Even though the shop managers at both Connaught Place and Chandni Chowk claim that they sell around 5,000 such caps per annum, the figures for the last two months reveal that it was less than 200 at both places.

"Gone are the days when eminent politicians would come here and purchase the cap. In fact, its sale always increased during elections. But this time round, there are hardly any takers for the Gandhi topi among politicians," said a Khadi Gramudyog official at Chandni Chowk.

Senior Khadi Gramudyog officials speaking on condition of anonymity revealed that till the late 80s, they used to ensure that they had enough stock of Gandhi topi before elections. "It was not only a must for the majority of the politicians, but also for the supporters and party workers who used to canvass for their candidates wearing Gandhi topi. But this is no longer the case now," the official said.

Stating that the fading away of the Gandhi topi from the political milieu of the country only reflected the changes in the political set-up during the past one decade, another Gandhian attributed this to the communal politics of the late 1980s. "This is an era of Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress too has been toeing a soft Hindutva line. Then whom do you expect to remember Gandhi," he asked.

Another Gandhian of the Lok Sevak Sangh, S. D. Sharma, expressed satisfaction that the Gandhi topi was no longer in demand this election. "During the last few decades, the Gandhi topi was being worn only for the voter's sake. At least this pretence of wearing the Gandhi topi during elections has come to an end," he said.

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