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Family remains untouched by PM Narendra Modi’s rise

Author: Akhilesh Kumar Singh, TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 30, 2017
URL:   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/rajkot/family-remains-untouched-by-modis-rise/articleshow/61855256.cms

Around mid-day, 75-year-old Sombhai Modi blows the conch shell at the newly-constructed Sirdi Sai temple in an old age home run by the Sarvodaya Sewa Trust headed by him. The compound recently acquired gates but there is nothing to detract from the relative obscurity and ordinariness that marks the 'aarti' and other rituals that are part of the daily routine at the ashram.

Sombhai's younger brother Narendra Modi's rise to the prime ministership has not changed things at the Vadnagar ashram where Sombhai has lived since the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. Modi became chief minister later that year, launching him on a journey that took him to the PM's post, but Sombhai's life remains unchanged as he tends to the elderly and organises blood donation and healthcare camps.

Unlike the more common trend of relatives gaining in affluence and influence, Sombhai objects to being called the "prime minister's brother" and feels comfortable with the lack of attention. Despite repeated requests, Sombhai refuses an interview, saying, "It kills the purpose of not using the position of my younger brother."

He adds, "There are several people running old age homes like me but you chose to interview me simply because I am Narendra Modi's brother. It encourages dynasty, and may be, relatives and other acquaintances will try to influence people and misuse the power."

Sombhai suggests a visit to Vadnagar town, which has witnessed changes recently with the construction of a new railway station, the one where Modi used to sell tea at an outlet run by his father Damodardas Modi.

Sombhai is not an exception. The Modi clan, descendants of Moolchand Mangilal Modi, Narendra Modi's grandfather, are quite widely spread out. Most lead relatively unremarkable lives. In the time Modi became CM in 2001 and PM in 2014, his extended family remains much the same.

Modi's first cousin Ashokbhai cooks meals at a sevashram in Vadnagar. Ashokbhai cooks 'khichdi' and his wife Vimlaben Modi washes utensils. The couple earns Rs 4,000-5,000 a month to take care of three daughters and a son. In the festival season, he sells kites, firecrackers and puts up stalls at nearby fairs. "I wish Narendrabhai attends my daughters' wedding," says Ashokbhai, who is considerably younger to the PM.

With assembly polls approaching, most family members are cautious, avoiding media glare. One of them says, "Why do we need to even prove that we have no political dreams. We want to live like 125 crore Indians and gain in life through hard work."

Modi's younger sister Vasantiben and her husband Hansmukhbhai Modi, who retired from LIC, live in a row house at Vishnagar, some 90 km from Ahmedabad.

The Modi family's modest means plays a key role in BJP's aggressive attacks on rivals for promoting dynasts as leaders. Rahul Gandhi is the prime target as was Akhilesh Yadav in the UP elections. BJP's slogan of "politics of performance" is buttressed by the lack of change in the Modi family's fortunes.

Modi's youngest brother Pankajbhai, an officer with the state information department, is the most well known, thanks to mother Heeraben staying with him in his three-room house in Ahmedabad. Modi visits on occasions, including his birthday to take his mother's blessings.

Another older brother, Amrutbhai, retired from a private company as a fitter in 2005. He settled in Ghatlodia Colony in Ahmedabad. His family's austerity has helped Modi avoid being tagged for nepotism though some family members rue that the PM should attend a family dinner. That does not seem very likely though.
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