’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

’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.”


Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

The bones of a Neanderthal's left hand emerging from the sediment in Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq, is seen in an undated photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 February 2020

Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers? Iraq cave yields new clues

  • Remains of 10 Neanderthals - seven adults and three infants - were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species

WASHINGTON: A Neanderthal skeleton unearthed in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of our species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead — and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.
Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual — dubbed Shanidar Z — was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.
The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals — seven adults and three infants — were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species.
Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.
That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.
But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.
“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyzes,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

COGNITIVE SOPHISTICATION
Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.
“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.
Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.
“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries — or even millennia — apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archaeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.
Neanderthals — more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows — inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.
The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.
Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.