Babubhai Katara isn’t the only Gujarat lawmaker to hand his wife’s passport to another woman. But his peers are smarter: they have made that passport “official”.
Some 30-odd MLAs in the state’s 182-member Assembly are believed to have more than one wife. And three, including a minister, are brazen enough to have declared it in their profiles on the Who’s Who published by the House secretariat. (See pictures below)
The joke is on chief minister Narendra Modi, who had a few years ago alleged widespread polygamy among Muslims with the taunt: “Hum paanch, hamare pachchis (the five of us and our 25 children).”
Gujarat’s polygamous MLAs are all Hindus, and many are from Modi’s own party, the BJP.
Water supplies minister Harijivanbhai Patel, 64, and fellow BJP member Madhu Srivastava, 54, mention their two wives in the Who’s Who. So does Hemaji Darghaji Rajput, Congress MLA from Vav in Banaskantha.
They are obviously bolder than the rest — both Srivastava and Rajput mention horse-riding as their hobbies. Madhu Bhoye, Congress MLA from Dangs, could have written “marrying” under that head — he has five wives.
The Konani tribal, however, has chosen discretion over daring, at least in official publications. Contacted, he defended himself, saying: “To have more than one wife is an accepted practice among tribals. We treat our wives as equal.”
Most of the polygamous MLAs are indeed tribals from south Gujarat. The school records of their children mention different mothers but the same father.
“Yes, our culture allows us to have more than one wife,” said former BJP MLA Rajnikant Rajwadi, himself a polygamous tribal from the region. Tradition or not, the practice is illegal, confirmed high court advocate Bhushan Oza.
Minister Harijivanbhai, who is from Banaskantha, forwarded the other common excuse: “My first wife had failed to conceive even 20 years after marriage. She allowed me to marry again. I now have a son and two daughters.”
Srivastava, who is not a tribal, had his own explanation.
“When I was young and reckless, I fell in love with a tribal girl and married her. I was 25. My family — we are from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh — saw red. They said if I didn’t take a wife from my own community, my younger sister would have to remain unmarried,” said the MLA, who made headlines a few years ago when he was accused of bribing key Best Bakery witness Zahira Sheikh to turn hostile.
“I took my first wife and her parents into confidence, and they allowed me to marry again.”
With the wives unwilling to complain, the law is helpless to act. “We have no business commenting on elected representatives’ marital status. I am not saying anything,” said P.C. Thakur, Vadodara police commissioner.
State law minister Ashok Bhatt refused to comment, saying: “It’s entirely a personal matter.”
The state government wouldn’t like the issue raked up, especially in an election year. Such a controversy would also dilute the ruling BJP’s campaign against the alleged polygamy among Muslims.
“I didn’t know so many of our MLAs have more than one wife,” said Ila Pathak, who heads the Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group, an NGO.
“It’s ironical. If you have more than two children, you aren’t allowed to contest civic and panchayat elections in Gujarat. But it seems you can be an MLA no matter how many wives you have.”
She plans to take the matter up with the Election Commission.
State poll commission officials, who asked not to be named, said they didn’t know of any rules to disqualify polygamous lawmakers. They added that the nomination papers ask candidates to declare their wives’ assets, too, but none had mentioned more than one wife.
There is, however, one instance of an MLA being nailed for polygamy. Former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary, who died three years ago, was prosecuted by his first wife Gajaraben in 1998 when he was leader of the Opposition.
Chaudhary, a tribal from Vyara in Surat, had argued that he had never legally married Gajaraben. Finally, he reached an out-of-court settlement with her just before the marriage of his son Tushar Chaudhary, now the MP from Mandvi, Surat.
The Congress women’s cell doesn’t see polygamy as an issue. “No such thing exists,” said its general secretary, Mayaben Dave. But Jayshree Patel, president of the BJP women’s wing, called the practice shameful.
“It’s time the political parties did something about it,” she said. “Polygamous MLAs shouldn’t be renominated. We’ll make sure they become politically untouchable.”
That could be a tad difficult. Although the scandal is an open secret, the MLAs are quick to set aside political differences and unite at any hint of an attempt to raise the issue.
Sometime last year, after Uttar Pradesh leader Mayavati expelled an MP from her Bahujan Samaj Party for an alleged extramarital affair, a Gujarat MLA, Bharat Pandya, had written a tongue-in-cheek letter to law minister Ashok Bhatt. The letter asked if the government was contemplating any such action against Gujarat’s polygamous MLAs.
Pandya was clearly joking. But many of the lawmakers were scared enough to jointly approach him and ask him to let sleeping dogs lie.