Gandhidham: Once, when Lalji Devaria was walking on the street, an elderly woman nearly fell at his feet and gave him blessings.
“I was totally taken by surprise. This lady was a Christian, and she said that every day in church she prayed for me to become Prime Minister. She kept calling me ‘Modiji’, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was mistaken,” Devaria told ThePrint.
At the time, Devaria had just finished shooting a Gujarati film, Namo Saume Gamo, where he played the role of Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat. He was chosen precisely because of how uncannily similar her looks to Narendra Modi, now the prime minister. There was a twist: Devaria may have looked like Modi, but he was a Congress worker who was with the party for decades. When he wasn’t doing work for the party, he was running a dairy business.
“I was with the Congress for 45 years in total, before I left. I shot the film with the party’s knowledge,” he ThePrint. “Looking like Modi gave me some insight into how much people loved him. Once at a hospital, a dying man said his death wish was to meet Modi. Another time when I was walking on the street, a burqa-clad woman stopped me for a selfie and said Modi was her hero.”
But as the real Modi gained popularity, especially after 2014, Devaria’s looks got him into trouble.
“I had attended a rally where Rahul Gandhi was campaigning in Ahmedabad in 2017, and some media people took pictures of me. The next day, there were a few headlines that said Modi was at Rahul Gandhi’s rally. I got a call from the (Congress) party and was told to either change my appearance or leave. I felt they were being unfair, so I left,” he said, adding, “I’ve never tried to copy Modi. This has been my style since day one.”
Devaria’s wife, Bharati — teasingly referred to as Yashodaben — told ThePrint: “He’s always looked like Modi. It doesn’t bother us. We find it a source of amusement.”
In 2018, Devaria decided to join the BJP and fully embrace the likeness he shared with the prime minister. His primary job since then has been to imitate Modi and please crowds at rallies, which he claims he has done over 700 times now.
He seems to have no regrets, and the difference in ideology between Congress and BJP doesn’t seem to bother him either.
Sitting in his home in Gandhidham, surrounded by his pets Tyson, the German Shepard, and Mango, the parrot, Devaria said, “Being in the (BJP) party has been useful for me. People treat and look at me with respect.”
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