On entering Uttara Society, Malvani, in the far-off western suburb of Malad with its mixed population of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, there’s hardly a hint of political activity. It’s a middle-class colony, quiet, and everyone seems to be going about their own business. However, on the third floor of this rather modest building lives a man who can cause traffic jams and make people stop to take a second look at him: he’s Vikas Mahante, also known as ‘Mumbaicha Modi’ or Mumbai’s Modi, for his striking resemblance to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “How much is the resemblance?” he asks coyly. “75 per cent? 80 per cent?” Quite close, and he accentuates it by dressing like Modi, keeping a beard, covering a bald patch with a combover.
Mahante, 52, runs a packaging business and has a factory in Vasai. He is married to Shubha and has two sons, Pratik and Pranay. He was never involved in politics but now, he’s busy campaigning for BJP-Sena candidates. “I have no party membership, but I want to make a difference as I’m fed up with corruption,” says Mahante, who speaks softly, a tad unlike Modi.
Unlike Modi, Vikas Mahante, a lookalike, is soft-spoken. He says he has not yet decided if he wants to join a party.
Mahante is dressed in casuals at home and gives instructions to his employees on phone even as his son manages his media and political interactions. “Earlier, I used to find it extremely awkward. I used to feel cheap. I used to tell myself that if I look like Modi, then what happens to Vikas Mahante?” he says, recounting times when people used to point out his similarity to the BJP leader. His family too used to oscillate between liking and disliking the attention. “Sometimes, people wanted to take pictures with him at malls or movie theatres. We were okay but didn’t take it seriously,” says Pratik. However, it all changed about a year ago when he went to Umbergaon in Gujarat to support Ramanlal Nanubhai Patkar, a candidate for the assembly elections in 2012. “My friends from the BJP and the Sena took me along just like that. And as soon as the crowd saw me, it just went crazy. The response was overwhelming. Also, the candidate won,” he says rather modestly, as if speaking about another person.
Mahante also managed to get an appointment with Narendra Modi himself after a few months. “He looked at me and paused for a second. He then asked me what my plans were. It was a good meeting,” he remembers fondly. What was then only a “good meeting” turned into a driving force as Modi mania picked up with electioneering. He says he does not make any money from any rally. “I was offered Rs 50,000 to go to Dhule. I didn’t take up the offer. I make enough money for my family from my business. I am only doing this for personal satisfaction.” He has made appearances for the Sena’s Arvind Sawant, Rahul Shewale and Gajanan Kirtikar and for the BJP’s Gopal Shetty. He has just returned from a successful rally at Boisar, his hometown.
Will he join politics? “I know I can mobilise people, at least in my hometown. If I get a good platform, we can do some work. I haven’t decided which party, though.” However, he adds that he is still waiting for a call from higher-ups in the BJP. “I haven’t spoken about this to anyone. I hope I am not treated like some use-and-throw thing,” says Mahante. For Modi’s critics could cite several examples of his having done so.