The Sunday Mail
Growing up in the populous streets of India, little did he know that he would one day be a government minister in a country that is 7 000km from his birth place.
Until a few weeks ago, many Zimbabweans were not familiar with the name Raj Modi. He may have grabbed a few headlines in his previous life as a businessman in Bulawayo, now in his new life as Deputy Ministry of Industry and Commerce, he has been thrust into the limelight.
In Bulawayo, his name has been known for quite a while now. Some even call him “Mdawini”, derived from the Shumba totem. In an interview at his Government offices in Harare last week, Mr Modi said his 36-year stay in Zimbabwe probably merited the honorarium of the totem.
“In Zimbabwe, totems are very important and they are part of people’s lives,” he says with a smile.
“It is how the people connect and relate to each other. Although I have been in the country for decades, I wanted something that would help connect with the people at another level. I adopted the totem years ago due to my everyday encounters with people. They ended up calling me many local names until they settled for Mdawini.
“Each time people saw me they would say ‘you are my brother’, others would say ‘you are my uncle’. That is how I made friends and customers and during the (Naitonal Assembly) campaigns, I made a lot of supporters using that line.”
But who really is Deputy Minister Modi?
Born Rajesh Indukant Modi in India on February 4, 1959, he attained a degree in Economics from South Gujarat University in 1981. Upon completing his studies, he got a job as a cashier at an electrical shop in India.
As fate would have it, a few months later the 22-year-old Modi met Parul Kothari, who was born in Zimbabwe, and Cupid took over.
The two lovebirds got married and the young couple flew to Zimbabwe.
But tragedy struck.
Mr Modi’s father-in-law passed away, leaving his young wife to care for her widowed mother.
“I had no intention of staying in the country. I remember I had a few clothes with me and a return ticket. However, when my father-in-law passed away, I had to stay for my wife and mother-in-law.
“At 22, I had a lot of plans. I had many friends back in India, had dreams I wanted to achieve in India, so it was not easy at first, I must admit.
“I got a job as a general hand, sweeping and mopping floors. I used to walk to and from work to save money. After eight years, I joined Mr Naran’s supermarket and while I was there, I learnt how to manage a supermarket. After some time, I opened my own business, which is Bellevue Superette.
“When I started the superette, it was more of a tuck shop, a small over-the-counter shop manned by two staff members.
“The shop was being run by my wife while I continued to be formally employed by the wholesale centre run by Mr Naran.”
After five years of working for Mr Naran, Mr Modi quit to run the superette; and in 1999, he established Bellevue Spar – which gave birth to 12 other supermarkets.
He has three other supermarkets in Australia, which are run by his father.
In 2005, he sold his supermarkets to Choppies and started a liquor wholesale – the popular Liquor Hub – which he runs to this day.
Away from businesses, he spends time with his wife, three children and three grandchildren. He also periodically visits his brother and sister who are still in India.
Modi has been a Zanu-PF card-carrying member since 2003.
In 2014 he was elected secretary for indigenisation for the Bulawayo City district executive. In 2018, he was elected ward secretary for production and labour.
“Most people do not know that I have been in politics for some time now,” he says. “However, it was during the events that led to November’s Operation Restore Legacy that made my name popular as I was accused of fanning factionalism in Bulawayo.
“I was one of the people who were said to be in President Mnangagwa’s corner when he was still the Vice-President. However, that is in the past now and we are focusing on the future.”
Deputy Minister Modi believes Government has to harness the youth dividend to create sustainable growth.
For his part, he is willing to continue encouraging young people to be entrepreneurial. Last week, he unveiled a $100 000 revolving fund for youths in Bulawayo.
“I do not believe in giving people handouts; that is why we have decided to have a revolving fund which will used by the youths.
“It is a way of giving back to the community that accommodated and supported me for so many years. It is also a way of empowering the youths.
“I will also be giving away my salary. At the moment, I have not decided on the charity organisations,” he said.
His desire, he says, is to see Zimbabwe restored to the country he fell in love with when he first landed in Harare 36 years ago.