From campaigning to taking selfies, this PM Modi doppelganger is making waves

From the beard and the spectacles to the attire, Udupi’s Sadananda Nayak is a dead ringer for the Prime Minister.
From campaigning to taking selfies, this PM Modi doppelganger is making waves
From campaigning to taking selfies, this PM Modi doppelganger is making waves
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On a warm afternoon on May 1, as thousands waited to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi address a rally at Udupi’s MGM Grounds, the attention of those sitting in the first few rows was quickly drawn to a man with a white beard and wire-rimmed specs, dressed in a half-sleeved kurta and jacket.

Sadananda Nayak, or Sadanna as he is known, bears a striking resemblance to the Prime Minister. And this is the umpteenth Bharatiya Janata Party rally he is attending, but this is the first time he’s attending one in his hometown.

Born and brought up in Bommarabettu village, in Udupi’s Hiriyadka town, Sadananda started working early – as a cook at the age of 12. “My father wasn’t earning enough. So I studied only until Class 5,” he says. “I then took up work at the Mitra Samaj hotel in Udupi. My income at that time was Rs 12 a month.”

He soon realised he had a flair for cooking and, following his brief stint in Udupi, his job soon took him to other parts of the country.

“I kept travelling and reached Harihar in Davangere, where I worked for 7 years. I then worked in Gujarat for 3 years and in Colaba in Mumbai for another 3 years. I returned home after that and for almost 2 years worked at the Kediyoor Hotel in Udupi. Finally, I ended up working in Manipal’s Kasturba Medical College, where I worked as a cook for 24 years,” he said.

In 2017, when he was on his way to cook at a private function, it first came to people’s notice that he was a dead ringer for the PM.

Where it all began

“In January last year, nine other cooks and I were travelling to Haridwar from Mangaluru by train. I didn’t get time then to shave my beard off. And as we were travelling, more and more passengers started telling me I looked like Modi. I never used to fashion my beard like this, but now I never shave it off,” he laughs.

When asked if he follows the PM’s fashion on purpose, he says, “After the beard incident, I try to maintain it and my hairstyle. A gentleman in Udupi offered to make me a set of glasses that resembled the PM’s. The glasses I own now, I got them made in Gujarat. It isn’t exactly like his, but somewhat resembles it.”

Now, wherever Nayak goes, crowds throng him, sometimes irking police officials. “There have been times when the police have asked me to move from a place because they haven’t been able to handle the crowds that gather for selfies. There have also been times when I have slipped through the crowds and escaped!”

His appearance at the MGM Grounds in Udupi was no different. Hordes of supporters lined up to click selfies with Nayak, who obligingly waved and folded his arms.  

“No matter how hard I try, I cannot mimic Modi at all, so the only thing I do is wave my hands,” says Sadananda, his voice tinged with horror.

Although the Prime Minister and his lookalike have been at the same venue at more than one occasion, a meeting between them is yet to take place. “I’ve had several opportunities to meet him, particularly during his visit to Dharmasthala, but unfortunately due to security reasons I couldn’t. Maybe, one day I’ll visit him in Delhi for 5 minutes after taking our MP Shobha Karandlaje’s signature. One day we shall meet for sure”, he says, adding he’d like to meet Modi’s mother as well.

The Gujarat campaign

Sadananda earmarked almost 4 weeks for his trip to Gujarat in late 2017, just before the much talked-about elections in the state. Circumstances, he recalls, were not always favourable to him, especially since he planned the entire trip out of his own pocket.

“Initially, I had to spend nights at the Ahmedabad railway station as I couldn’t find an affordable accommodation,” he said.

That changed, however, with a visit to the BJP office in the city. “Even though I made it clear that I wasn’t a BJP member and that I was there on a personal visit, I was delighted to help the party in their campaigns. I was sent to several districts in the state because of my appearance. Some generous BJP workers offered me money for my daily use and accommodation for the night,” he said, adding that he never asked for monetary benefits and that his services to the BJP are often unpaid.

The media, both local and national, soon picked up on this doppelganger on the election trail. And once it was known that he worked as a cook, comparisons were drawn to the PM working as a tea seller when he was younger.

On the trail in Karnataka

As the election campaign in Karnataka enters its last leg, Nayak explained that he had a role to play in his state’s elections as well. “In the past few weeks, I have visited Dharwad, Belagavi, Hubbali and other small towns. Before the candidate list was out, certain aspiring candidates used to try and show their dominance over who would get the party ticket, and calling me to campaign was a way of showing that.”

Asked if he would continue working for the party in the coming days, Sadananda confirmed that certain BJP district offices were in touch with him for his services.

Even though his political opinions favour the BJP, Sadananda holds back from calling for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” (“Congress-free India”), as echoed by several ministers in the Central Government, and a slogan often used by the Prime Minister as well.

“I won’t go as far as calling for the complete removal of the Congress,” he said. “They need to be a strong Opposition party, even if they lose in all states. A single party mustn’t have a say in everything.”

Will the future hold an opportunity for Sadananda to enter the performing arts arena as the Prime Minister’s character? Maybe, according to him. “I have been asked to perform in some Beedi Natakas (street plays), but so far there is no firm confirmation. Some from Mumbai have contacted me in this regard as well, so there may be an opportunity soon.”

For now, however, his immediate aim is to wrap up his visits to various districts in Karnataka, following which he plans to get back to his old love: travel.

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