’I am the original’: Modi lookalike hits campaign trail

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In this file photo taken on April 10, 2014, Indian businessman Vikas Mahante, a lookalike of India's Narendra Modi who won the prime minister position in the 2014 election, speaks on the phone as he prepares for an election campaign event in Mumbai. (AFP)
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In this photograph taken on April 17, 2019, Abhinandan Pathak, a lookalike of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaks with youths as he campaigns in a national election bid as an independent candidate in Lucknow in India's Uttar Pradesh state. (AFP)
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In this photograph taken on April 17, 2019, Abhinandan Pathak, a lookalike of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gestures as he campaigns in a national election bid as an independent candidate in Lucknow in India's Uttar Pradesh state. (AFP)
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In this file photo taken on April 10, 2014, Indian businessman Vikas Mahante, a lookalike of India's Narendra Modi who won the prime minister position in the 2014 election, arrive for an election campaign event in Mumbai. (AFP)
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to address a rally ahead of Phase VI of India's general election in Allahabad on May 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2019
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’I am the original’: Modi lookalike hits campaign trail

  • The 57-year-old businessman, who even played Modi in a little-known 2017 biopic, has been the star attraction at rallies

LUCKNOW, India: His white beard neatly trimmed and a sleeveless jacket thrown over his traditional Indian shirt, Abhinandan Pathak turns heads thanks to an uncanny resemblance to the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But Pathak — almost the same height and build as the PM, and who even walks in a similar way — is no ordinary doppelganger.
Bitter at Modi’s “failed promises,” Pathak is running as an independent against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s marathon election — and is getting a lot of support.
The largest election on Earth wraps up on Sunday May 19, after seven weeks of intense campaigning and the votes of 900 million Indians.
“The anger (toward Modi) is real. I can feel it wherever I go,” Pathak, 58, told AFP from his one-room shanty home in the northern city of Lucknow, in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh.
When Modi was first elected in 2014, Pathak was a supporter. Because of his resemblance to the premier, people “adored me, they asked for selfies and hugged me.”
“I was showered with love. People thought that if they can’t meet the real Modi, they might as well meet me,” he said.
“But now they get angry when they see me. They ask me ‘where are the good days’,” he said, after Modi’s 2014 election slogan “achhe din ayenge” (“good days will come“).
Pathak’s brightest moment came in May 2014, when he says Modi hugged him during a victory parade in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
But it was all downhill after that. He was ignored by the party and his many letters to Modi went unanswered, Pathak said.

Lookalike candidates are nothing new in the colorful world of Indian politics. Their presence invariably invokes curiosity, with crowds thronging to catch a glimpse of the duplicates.
In Mumbai, another Modi lookalike — Vikas Mahante — has been out and about on the campaign trail in a district of the city, and on a BJP ticket.
The 57-year-old businessman, who even played Modi in a little-known 2017 biopic, has been the star attraction at rallies.
But it can get hairy. Once people threw stones at him and he had to be rushed to safety. Now the lookalike has his own bodyguard.
“Once I was chased by a gang of men around midnight while I was returning from a rally,” he told the Hindustan Times daily in 2017.
“(I) stepped on the accelerator, jumped all signals and didn’t stop anywhere.”

In 2014, Prashant Sethi lapped up being a dead ringer for Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the country’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and Modi’s main challenger in both the 2014 and 2019 elections.
Sethi, who sells fried chicken in Surat in the western state of Gujarat, was reportedly offered a film role too.
But now the Modi supporter has had enough. He has transformed his look: putting on weight, growing a beard and changing his hairstyle — all to look different from Gandhi.
“Me and my family have been supporters of the BJP since the beginning. But because of my look I was always teased,” Sethi told AFP.
“People had started calling me pappu,” he said, referring to a common nickname — used by Gandhi’s detractors — for slightly stupid individuals.
“So I had to change my look,” he said.
But back in Lucknow feisty father-of-six Pathak has no wish to change.
“Why should I? I have been in politics since the 90s and I have always sported the beard and kurta,” he said, referring to a traditional Indian long-sleeved shirt, and showing a picture from his younger days.
“I am the original one, Modi is my lookalike.”


Women bring light to remote villages on islands of Zanzibar

In this undated photo provided by XPRIZE, a child in a village in the Tanga region of Tanzania learns to read from a tablet using open-sourced software that would easily be downloaded by illiterate children to teach themselves to read. (AP)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Women bring light to remote villages on islands of Zanzibar

  • Women are almost twice as likely as men to have no education, and are less likely to own a land or have access to a bank account, according to a Tanzania-wide government survey in 2016

KINYASINI, Tanzania: A s a single mother, Salama Husein Hajja was low in the pecking order in her village in Tanzania and struggling to eke out a living for her family as a farmer.
But now she hopes to gain status and a stable income after being trained as a community solar engineer for a project bringing light to scores of rural villages where no homes are connected to electricity on the islands of Zanzibar.
Grandmothers and single mothers — many of whom have never learned to read or write — are among those being trained under the program which they say could transform lives in their poor fishing and farming communities.
“We struggle a lot to get lighting,” said Hajja, 36, a vegetable farmer and mother of three children from a village on Unguja, the largest and most populated island in the Zanzibar archipelago.
“When you don’t have electricity, you can’t do many things like teaching children. It forces you to use a lamp. The smoke is harmful, the eyes and the chest are affected.
“When the electricity is there, it’s better.”
Life is challenging for women in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania made up of numerous islands where half the population lives below the poverty line.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to have no education, and are less likely to own a land or have access to a bank account, according to a Tanzania-wide government survey in 2016.
Many poorer and rural families also lack access to electricity, compounding the challenges they face.
The island region’s entire energy grid depends on an underground cable connecting it to the mainland which was damaged in 2009, plunging it into darkness for three months.
Furthermore, only about half of houses in Zanzibar are connected to mains power, with many of the remainder forced to rely on polluting fuel lamps for light.

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“We only use a lamp inside,” said Aisha Ali Khatib, a mother of nine, training as a solar engineer alongside Hajja at the Barefoot College in Kinyasini village on Unguja.
“The lamp uses paraffin ... Buying one spoon of paraffin is 200 shillings ($0.09) but I can go for two days without making 200 shillings.”
Solar power offers solutions to connect rural villages with little prospect of getting mains power and increase resilience and sustainability.
Millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa are getting access to electricity through off-grid renewables, the International Energy Agency said last year, which forecasted strong demand to boost growth in the sector up to 2022.
The solar training scheme offered by Barefoot College, a social enterprise that began in India and is now working in East Africa, also focuses specifically on training women.
The project was designed to address the fact that women are much less able to leave their villages due to poverty and family links while also empowering women in Tanzania’s male-dominated society by offering them decently paid work.
Communities in participating villages are asked to nominate two women aged between 35 and 55 to leave their families and travel to the college to train as engineers.
Many of those chosen lack formal education, but they are recognized as people who can command authority and who are deeply embedded in the life of their villages.
“When you educate a woman, you educate a whole community,” said Fatima Juma Hajji, a solar engineer trainer at Barefoot college in Zanzibar.
“When you educate a man, he will not stay in the village, he will go away but when you educate a woman, she goes back to her village and helps improve.”
Women on the project spend five months living and training at the college, after which they return to their villages and set up solar lighting systems for their family and neighbors.
Households pay a few dollars a month for power – a cheaper option than buying paraffin or electricity from the grid.
Some of the money is used to pay the engineers a salary in return for maintaining the village’s equipment and funds raised can also be plowed back into community projects.
Women on the scheme said they had benefitted by gaining a stable income stream, and a new sense of independence and respect within their villages.
“We have been given a better life because after we leave here, we will be engineers and will go back to teach others,” said Hajja.
“When I go back I will have status. I will be knowledgeable and I will be proud.” ($1 = 2,300.0000 Tanzanian shillings) (Writing by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.