If his stories are to be believed, he is the ultimate showstopper — policemen have stopped to salute him, pujaris have halted midway through prayers and gaped at him, “even dream girl” Hema Malini was left “dumbfounded” when she saw him. “Arre, Modiji, aap? Bina security ke? Yahaan?” she supposedly asked him.
At 12.30 pm on Thursday, a week before campaigning ends for the Delhi Assembly elections, the excitement at Parmanand colony in Timarpur, north Delhi, builds up to a breathless buzz. This has to be The Man Himself — the rimless spectacles, the sleeveless jacket, the orange bandhini turban, the closely-cropped grey beard. And then comes the giveaway — Abhinandan Pathak a.k.a. ‘Nandan Modi’ gets on to his cycle with a damru, a donation box and a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the carrier, and pedals away.
Pathak, 52, a resident of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is Modi’s lookalike — “Modi incarnate”, he says. It’s a fortuity he takes very seriously. He arrived in the Capital 10 days ago to campaign for his “bade bhai (elder brother)”. “Modiji has a very hectic schedule and doesn’t have enough time to meet people. If everyone thinks I am Modi, shouldn’t I be helping him?” he says, sweeping the porch of the Harihar temple at 6.30 am earlier that day. The temple near the Rajghat power station in central Delhi is where Pathak has been staying since he arrived in Delhi.
Pathak’s day begins at 4:30 am when he wakes up to recite his prayers, most of which are paeans dedicated to his “guru” Modi. After that, he sweeps the temple premises to support the Prime Minister’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign. “People need to imbibe Modi’s values. All that he is saying now was something our forefathers practised,” says the father of six.
By 7 am, he is ready for the ‘Modi aarti’ at the temple. About 10 people have gathered to witness this ceremony which has Pathak as the lead performer. “Jai Modi deva/Bhakti jai Modi deva/Rashtra ke tum ho nayak/Rashtriya nirman sahayak/Rashtra ki karo seva….”
Half an hour into the aarti, Pathak’s phone rings. “Thank you for calling Modi,” says the caller tune in English. Before Pathak can reach for the phone, his aide Ajay Mishra takes the call: “Aarti mein hai, baad mein baat karenge (he’ll talk later).” Ever since Pathak has taken upon himself the role of being Modi’s body double, he has become a busy man, attending phone calls and giving interviews. He now even has a media team handling his interviews.
“I have campaigned in Benaras, Maharashtra and Haryana for my elder brother. I will campaign in all the 70 constituencies in Delhi. He is a man with a vision and only he can save this country,” says Pathak.
He adds that it was on March 7, 2012, that he realised he was “Modiji’s Lakshman”. “I had gone to a police station in Saharanpur to lodge a complaint. The policeman was filing the report and hadn’t noticed me. When he looked up, he gasped. He saluted me and offered me his chair. I told him I was an ordinary man. It took a while but he came back to his senses and told me I was born with a gift,” says Pathak, a former physical education teacher at the RC Intercollege in Saharanpur. Pathak claims the college asked him to quit after he began spending his time campaigning. He says he is now president of the ‘Namo Sena’, an organisation of Modi supporters in Saharanpur.
“That day at the police station, I realised my life would change forever. After the BJP named Modi their PM candidate, he grew and so did I,” says Pathak.
“I have held several sabhas. People stop me wherever I go, ask for autographs and take ‘selfies’ with me,” says Pathak while posing for a photograph with a 17-year-old in Kingsway camp.
Around noon, on his way to Seelampur in northeast Delhi, Pathak stops for a cup of tea. The shop is now teeming with people and Pathak clearly likes the attention. His stories now have more drama: “It’s not just the way I look, there are other similarities too. In Maharashtra, while Modiji was campaigning in Loha, he suddenly coughed. I was watching him on TV and just then, I too began to cough, and within a few hours, I had fever. Isn’t that strange?” he says, waving to the crowd. On the road outside, cars slow down and heads stick out.
But it’s May 8, 2014, that will always remain with Pathak. That was the day he met The Man Himself. “My son had been taunting me, saying if I was really an incarnation of Modi, why is it that I hadn’t met him so far? This troubled me. That same day, Modji was in Benaras and campaigning on his rath. I happened to be in Benaras as well. I waited for four hours and suddenly I saw him. I ran to him and fell at his feet. His security guards were baffled. But before anything could happen, he lifted me and held me and said, ‘Shaabash’.”
From that day onwards, Pathak says, he devoted himself to “being” Modi. “I keep seeing him on TV. But I haven’t copied his way of speaking or his mannerisms. It’s all natural.”
It’s 5 pm and he has to wind up his campaign for the day. But there is a pressing issue at hand. “I need security. People latch on to me for autographs and photos. They mob me. Those who do not support Modiji have tried to lynch me. I have written to the Saharanpur SP and to the Uttar Pradesh government. They have reverted saying they will look into it.”
Just as Modi would say, “Mera ek sapna hai…”, Pathak claims to have a dream of his own: “I have written to Modiji asking him to give me his old kurtas. I told him I am a poor man and every time people hold me or grab me, my kurtas tear. I have lost too many. So I have asked Modiji to donate his old clothes to me,” he says, preparing now for his 7 pm aarti.