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Lok Sabha Elections Cast Spotlight On PM Modi Look-Alikes

A supporter and lookalike of PM waves before the start of a roadshow by Prime Minister Modi in Kochi

NEW DELHI:

Muslim electric-rickshaw driver Rashid Ahmed is fondly called “Our Modi” in his Delhi neighbourhood for his striking resemblance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now seeking a third consecutive term in general elections.

If, as widely expected, PM Modi wins the polls, which conclude on June 1 with vote-counting set for June 4, he will be only the second person after independence hero and first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to serve three consecutive terms.

“I have been like this from the beginning, but since Modi has become prime minister, there has been more discussion of it,” said Mr Ahmed, 60, whose white hair and beard, trimmed like Modi’s, along with similar clothing, spurred the comparison.

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Living with his wife, children and grandchildren in a two-room home, Mr Ahmed is a celebrity in the surrounding area, and often interrupted at his daily tasks by visitors who want to meet him or take pictures with him.

He is known only as “Modi uncle” to the children there, many of whom he drives to school everyday.

“I thought, ‘This is Modi’, so why don’t I meet him?” said a self-described fan of the Prime Minister, Seema, who gave only one name when she sought Ahmed out for a chat in April, after spotting him following a visit to a city hospital.

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Mr Ahmed has also attended rallies of PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a Prime Ministerial look-alike, exciting those in the crowd who initially mistook him for the leader.

Such events have earned him about 1,000 rupees ($12) each, about what he gets from his rickshaw driver’s job each day.

“People do give us money (for the rallies) and we also have to take (it) because we are leaving work,” he added.

Religion has also taken centre-stage in the current seven-phase elections with PM Modi, in his speeches, accusing the main opposition Congress party of being pro-Muslim.

PM Modi has denied such accusations, saying he does not oppose Islam.

Mr Ahmed believes it is not the Prime Pinister but those on his party’s lower rungs “who divide religions”, however.

“The Prime Minister will listen to everyone, the good and the bad … It is the people lower down who do wrong things and disgrace the party,” he said.

Mr Ahmed is one of several Prime Ministerial look-alikes, from a businessman in the financial capital of Mumbai to a food vendor in Modi’s western home state of Gujarat, to have featured in BJP campaigns.

Party officials did not immediately respond to Reuters’ telephone calls to seek comment.

Another PM Modi look-alike is Jagdish Bhatia, 68, who runs a real-estate business in a more affluent area of the capital and belongs to a spiritual sect independent of any religion.

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He says he does not accept money for attending BJP rallies, because he considers the task a “social service”, since he likes PM Modi’s vision.

“I really liked the way PM Modi worked, the things he did for the development of the country,” Bhatia added. “That is why I like to be of some use to the party.”

Mr Bhatia accentuates his similarity to PM Modi by altering his clothing style to match, though Mr Ahmed dismisses his own resemblance to the leader as coincidental.

“Only time will tell,” Mr Ahmed replied to a query about the election outcome. “We just want that there should be good work … development should happen on all sides … everyone should be together.”