India’s prime minister attracted ire and bemusement yesterday after donning saffron robes to meditate in a Himalayan cave, as the country votes in that final stage of its election.
In pictures released by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the PM is seen wearing the orange garments synonymous with Hindu priests and sitting cross-legged in a cave near the Kedarnath shrine, in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
A master of the grand political gesture, Mr Modi and his aides tweeted the photos, hoping they would strike a chord with his austere, religious supporters.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his divisive Hindu-nationalist agenda as the pro-business BJP seeks another five years in power.
The BJP’s main opposition is the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers. The results are due on Thursday.
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Others were derisive about the pictures themselves, saying Mr Modi cannot even go to meditate silently without photographers in tow.
“No meditation is complete or meaningful without the right attire, red carpet and of course a stage managed photo opportunity,” wrote Rupa Subramanya prominent economist and a former BJP supporter turned critic.
One Twitter user created a video of Modi floating away from the cave and reaching his birthplace, Gujarat’s Vadnagar, in the style of bombastic Indian television shows that depict legends and fables.
Other observers and much of the Indian media turned their attention to the caves themselves – which are actually in a man-made retreat.
Kedarnath to Vadnagar pic.twitter.com/zA52MR2T4A
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They can be booked online for Rs 990 (£11.20) a day and the facilities include electricity, drinking water, and “morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner at prescribed timing which can be changed upon request”, reported the Hindustan Times.
The cave also has a telephone connection and an attendant who can be summoned with a bell, the newspaper added.
The photos came on the heels of Mr Modi’s first press conference in five years, in which the prime minister did not answer a single question, delegating then all to his party president, Amit Shah.
However, Mr Modi and the BJP have managed to harness social media and technology in a way that is the envy of many of their rivals; managing to bypass the media and repeatedly appealing to its main base.