When the general elections began in India earlier this month, many described it as a “battle of the bachelors” between Narendra Modi, BJP's prime minister hopeful, and Congress' Rahul Gandhi, seen by many as the future PM.
But Modi on Thursday finally broke his silence about his marital status, acknowledging that he was married.
It was Modi's first official admission of an arranged marriage when he was just 17, but he walked away from it soon after the wedding some 45 years ago during a period when he went to the Himalayas and was considering becoming a monk or a full-time activist of the Hindu nationalist organisation RSS, spiritual mentor of Bharatiya Janata Party, which required a vow of celibacy.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal yesterday moved the Election Commission over the issue of the marital status of Modi seeking action by the polls body against the BJP leader for allegedly “hiding” facts in election affidavits filed by him in the past.
Indian political landscape does not have a dearth of leaders who are single. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who too had begun as a RSS pracharak, never married. Three lady politicians, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha, her West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, and Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati, are all single. And so is Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik.
Mamata, Mayawati, Jayalalitha and Patnaik -- considered the four powerful regional satraps -- are also expected to hold the key to government formation at the Centre in case the ongoing parliamentary elections find Modi-led BJP falling short of majority and go for coalition.
Modi's principal challenger 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the campaign of the Congress party, belongs to the most charismatic political Nehru-Gandhi clan. He reportedly has girlfriends, and for years, the question of whether he would get married followed him almost everywhere he went. He has almost always brushed aside questions about his marriage plan with a smile.
Politically, Modi and Rahul may be poles apart, but both have an argument for maintaining single status.
At an election rally earlier this year, Modi contended he could not possibly be corrupt because he is a bachelor. “Why would I indulge in corruption? For whom [I would]? There is no one behind or in front of me.”
Last year, Rahul told supporters that he did not plan to get married. “I will become status-quo-ist, and I will like my children to take my place,” he added.
It remains to be seen if Modi's ending the ambiguity over his marriage and his moving away from his wife Jashodaben, now a retired school teacher almost of his age, would damage or help him electorally in a country where women constitute nearly half the 814 million voters.
But Modi's rivals have already started attacking him on the issue. Leaders of Congress accused Modi of deceiving the public about his marital status. Congress spokeswoman Shobha Oza on Thursday said, “How a person who fought shy of his duty as a husband could be entrusted the responsibility of a country?”
Oza also used this opportunity to rake up earlier allegations that Modi, with the help of his close aide Amit Shah, had ordered the stalking of a young woman.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh in a Twitter post questioned, “Can women of this country trust a man who stalks a woman, deprives his wife of her right?”
Indian newspapers yesterday quoted family members of Modi's wife as saying that Jashodaben has gone on a pilgrimage praying success for her husband to become India's next prime minister.
The media had rushed to her house in a village in Gujarat, but failed to find her there and were told that she is out on a pilgrimage with a group of women.
The Times of India in a report said Jashodaben had told her colleagues on her retirement as a school teacher that she did not expect anything from her husband and just wanted him to acknowledge once as his wife.
Newspapers also said quoting her close relatives that Jashodaben has stopped eating rice for some months now as a vow to see Modi as PM.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said, “I have filed a petition with the Election Commission today [yesterday] seeking action against Modi under various provisions of the IPC for hiding facts in his election affidavits regarding his marriage.”
Kapil was talking to reporters in New Delhi after meeting the polls panel.
Between 2002 and 2012, Modi had filed election affidavits while contesting Gujarat assembly elections, where he had not mentioned his marital status, he mentioned.
“He has not informed the country about this fact. Now, while contesting from Vadodara Lok Sabha seat, he has mentioned that he is married,” added Kapil.
He said the EC has assured him of examining his plea.
Also yesterday, Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi raked up the issue of Modi's marriage, saying while the BJP made claims of ensuring safety of women, it took several elections for its prime ministerial candidate to mention the name of his wife in the polls affidavit.
“In Delhi, he talks about honour of women but his own wife's name doesn't reach the affidavit,” said Rahul.