The Doppelgangers Are Coming

From Delhi to Meerut and beyond, lookalikes of famous politicians are having a field day, with them being called for rallies, roadshows, inaugurations. But who are they really and what is their equation with the famous men they resemble?
Campaigning for Congress during Corporation election rally, 2023
recent Vidhan Sabha polls.
Campaigning for Congress during Corporation election rally, 2023 recent Vidhan Sabha polls.

Mohd Faisal Chaudhury, 25, knows that walking alongside or even ahead of Rahul Gandhi at a march will not make him Rahul Gandhi. But he is happy being in his orbit. He wears the white form-fitting tee, which Gandhi made famous when he launched the Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022, when he sits for a Whatsapp video interview with TMS at his home in a Meerut village and switches on the video drawing a curtain at his back to screen his interiors. He wants to keep his private life private. He is ‘Chota Rahul’, everyone is interested in his face, would anyone really be interested in his world?

Chaudhury belongs to a “Congressi” farmer family. He joined the party in 2021, and is a west Uttar Pradesh (UP) leader of the Unorganised Workers & Employees Congress (KCC), chaired by Udit Raj. A few days ago he was in Delhi to meet Raj. Next, he is going to Rae Bareli, like other party workers buzzed up about Gandhi’s campaign. In the recent Vidhan Sabha elections, he campaigned for party candidates in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

“Candidates call me over just so that I can walk with them and wave my hand. I went to the constituencies of 28 MLAs for campaigning and 17 won,” he points out with something of the ‘official’ doppelganger’s pride. Rahul Gandhi himself has, after all, tweeted his photo once from his personal handle. It is an encounter he is not likely to forget, frozen in an X (formerly Twitter) image — Gandhi seated in an elevated position in his open car with Chaudhury on the street, his hand in his.

‘Chota Rahul’

Faisal Chaudhary, a Meerut
farmer, is a Rahul Gandhi lookalike
Faisal Chaudhary, a Meerut farmer, is a Rahul Gandhi lookalike

Locally, Chaudhury is now a minor celebrity; he keeps getting called for social and party programmes before audiences who are in on the act but love it nevertheless when he gets on stage to be turbaned. He walks around heavily garlanded amidst the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. The more he is in circulation as a “humshakl (lookalike)”, the more he feels he is contributing to Rahul Gandhi’s recall, election or no election. During the Bharat Jodo Yatra [Chaudhury has walked 1,700 km with Gandhi, from the UP’s Loni border (with Delhi) to Kashmir], at least a thousand were had, thinking he was the real thing, he says. “They started telling me their problems…. People like to see a familiar face that looks like a celebrity face…because of this I get more work to do for my party,” he says.

Who is Faisal Chaudhury besides being someone who resembles Rahul Gandhi? He sends a photo of his sugar cane field and a photo of him standing before his home above a welding works. At a time when politicians are making promises, Chaudhury quietly releases a kite he seems to hope will land well.

“Whenever Rahul ji sees me, he calls me over and asks if I’m fine and I always say that I am. But I sure have some issues. In any party there are people who want to pull you down — but it’s not like he has any responsibility towards me just because I am his humshakl…. Even Sachin Tendulkar has a humshakl, though I have heard Tendulkar uska total kharcha chalatey hain,” he says.

Literature (such as José Saramago’s The Double or Stephen King’s The Outsider) and cinema (Vertigo, The Man in the Iron Mask) plays the doppelganger game with good and evil twins or a lookalike, whose entry into the plot brings trouble. In life, they can be unsettling, or unbelievable, or the subject of a joke — part of nature’s trick to put us in place should we believe in our exceptionalism.

‘Malviya Nagar Ke Modi’

Real-estate businessman Jagdish Rai
Bhatia resembles PM Narendra Modi.
Real-estate businessman Jagdish Rai Bhatia resembles PM Narendra Modi.

It is commonly believed that everyone has at least six doppelgangers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lookalike, Jagdish Rai Bhatia, 68, is a real-estate businessman. ‘Malviya Nagar Ke Modi’, as he is known, shares many of the publicised habits — an early-morning riser with over a three-hour yoga routine, for instance — of the PM. Back home from the park, Bhatia makes tea that he and his wife Renu, 65, enjoy together. Through the day as he runs errands, buys groceries, or heads to the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan where he is a preacher, he is greeted by many. Some pay their respects, others ask for selfies.

Letting his naturally white beard grow is what turned Bhatia into the PM lookalike. In September 2013, when Modi’s name as the PM candidate was first announced, and his face became well-known to the public, people began telling Bhatia he resembled the PM. The first person to observe this was his bank manager. “I thought he was mocking me. But on the same day, when a Delhi secretariat staff member said the same thing, I began to believe it…. Ever since I have kept my look like his,” says Bhatia. “Earlier, he did not wear churidar pyjamas, but now he wears them with half-sleeved kurtas,” says his wife.

In 2014, Nandini Sharma, a friend and former municipal councillor of Malviya Nagar, asked Bhatia to join her campaigns. These initial rallies helped him gain more recognition; the returns have been some preferential treatment in everyday life. Like being asked to jump the queue when he is in line to buy something, or, someone or the other offering him a seat in crowded places.

He tells TMS that he must be very cautious about what he says and how he behaves in public. “My face is associated with the PM’s face. I don’t want to do anything that may harm his image,” he says. Bhatia is, however, not interested in being a full-time politician. “Party workers keep insisting I join the party, but I turned it down. I am associated with a religious organisation, and I believe religion and politics do not go hand-in-hand,” he says. Recently, he participated in a road show in Mehrauli with Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, the BJP candidate for the South Delhi constituency, and a public meeting at Lado Sarai village. An election campaign in Odisha is also on the cards. Road shows, he believes, “are not the same” as joining a party.

Lookalikes are an effective tool in election campaigning that can be used both ways — either to diss the opposition and to pass on the message that one’s own party is the better option. Modi and Amit Shah lookalikes were used in a May campaign uploaded on Congress’s Twitter (X) handle. It goes like this — Modi and Shah lookalikes enter a village where they are surrounded by villagers, one of whom entreats them to have their “ginti” done, a reference to the caste census — not mentioned in the BJP manifesto; it’s a Congress guarantee in its manifesto — ending with the leader telling the villager “pani toh pilao” (at least, give me some water to drink); the farmer then tells his son to get just one glass to keep the count right.

‘I got my ears pierced like Yogi’s’

PCI bartender Jagdish Singh Rawat is a Yogi clone.
PCI bartender Jagdish Singh Rawat is a Yogi clone.

Jagdish Singh Rawat, 47, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s lookalike, stays in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. A bartender at the Press Club of India, Delhi, he discovered his resemblance to the UP CM in 2018 with a “hair-fall problem”. Friends suggested he shave his hair off. “When I came to work with my head shaved, many club members, and some of my friends, told me that I looked like Yogi,” says Rawat.

The idea grew on him; his political views match the BJP leader’s anyway. Rawat gradually changed his look to clone the UP CM entirely. From attire to accessories, everything had to be a match — except when he went to work. “I started wearing Bhagwa (saffron clothes) and also got my ears pierced,” he says.

In 2022, he participated in his first roadshow. BJP’s Sagar Rawat, who is from Rawat’s residential colony, and who was running for the Ghaziabad municipal councillor’s post, enlisted him. He was warmly received so he went on to attend other rallies. Recently, Rawat also returned from a roadshow with Anil Baluni, former MP and BJP’s national spokesperson, in Pauri Garhwal.

Election fever or not, selfies are now a constant — he has even got mobbed so he steps out of his home with at least two people — whether he is wearing saffron or is in casual attire.

Being a lookalike of a famous person is, however, no easy thing. In many ways it is a trap – especially, if the only thing in common is the face. To look like the most famous person in your state or nation can also be a burden. In 2018, farmer Channamayi Gowda of Mysuru, who resembled the then CM-hopeful and sported the same haircut, did a little dance. It was close to the Congress’ victory in the Karnataka Assembly polls. The social media exploded with people commenting on “Siddaramaiah’s energetic dancing…. Congress continues winning streak in Karnataka”. TMS contacted Gowda in case he had been drafted in for electioneering in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls by any party because he is a lookalike. Gowda declines to comment. He wants to be left alone to grow his millets.

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