The Indian foreign office has embarked upon an esoteric sartorial mission: to collate the physical measurements of all 54 African heads of state and government who are invited to the three-day Africa Summit in New Delhi later this month.
Prime minister Narendra Modi plans to clothe each African leader in bespoke traditional Indian churidars – tight drainpipe-style pyjamas – and full sleeve kurtas or baggy knee-length shirts, in order to make a unified style statement for the summit's photo shoot.
Mr Modi, who dresses this way, is reportedly taking his cue from the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec). Leaders attending Apec’s annual meeting always don traditional Filipino shirts, jackets or other local clothing for their group photograph.
“The idea [of African leaders wearing Indian clothing] has been approved by the PM’s office and all concerned missions have been requested to forward their leader’s clothing size to the foreign ministry,” a senior diplomat said.
This sartorial uniformity, he added, will be one of the highlights of the summit, portraying the solidarity and traditional partnerships
has with African countries.
"The PM and the foreign ministry believe that the sewing machine is more than just a tool to stitch and mend clothes," a senior official associated with the Africa Summit told the Indian Express. It is also the tool that helps people feel really comfortable around each other, stitch-by-stitch, he said. "The relationship fabric between countries can also be repaired and strengthened through it [the sewing machine]," the official added.
The summit, which runs from October 26th, is the third such conclave that India has hosted since 2008. India has been strategically, economically, politically and diplomatically wooing Africa over the past two decades, seeking trade and commerce through skill, services and infrastructure development, education and information technology.
It is also pursuing agriculture to farm a range of food crops to import back home and increasingly meeting its hydrocarbon and mineral requirements from Africa.
By early next year India aims to increase bilateral trade with Africa to €89 billion, up from about €62 billion and hopes the summit will help it to achieve this goal.
India is also courting Africa's 54 votes in the United Nations to secure a long-desired elevation to the UN Security Council, by tapping into the expatriate Indian diaspora.