|Prahlad Modi, Narendra Modi’s younger brother
Ahmedabad, April 10: Narendra Modi’s elder brother today appealed to people “with folded hands” not to “rake up” the issue of Modi’s marriage but the Congress plans to seek his disqualification as an MLA for allegedly hiding his marital status till now.
Somabhai said his brother’s decision to leave wife Jashodaben soon after their 1968 marriage and his previous silence on her should be seen in the context of Modi’s life as a “sanyasi” serving the nation and living away from his entire family.
Gujarat BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani dubbed it a “personal matter that should not be turned into a political issue” and claimed that Jashodaben, a 62-year-old retired schoolteacher, had never complained against her husband.
The BJP prime ministerial candidate had for the first time yesterday publicly acknowledged his marriage, which he had neither denied nor confirmed ever before, in his nomination papers for the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat.
District electoral officer Vinod Rao’s office took more than 12 hours to make the affidavit’s details public — the formality usually takes two to three hours — prompting allegations of an attempt to delay the inevitable moral and political embarrassment to Modi.
In his past poll affidavits, Modi had always left the column on “spouse” blank before the Election Commission recently made it mandatory for candidates to fill in every column or face disqualification.
The latest regulation came after a public interest litigation last November sought Modi’s disqualification as Maninagar MLA citing the blank column in his 2012 nomination papers but the Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea saying the matter fell in the poll panel’s domain.
State Congress president Arjun Modhwadia today said the party would ask the Election Commission to revoke Modi’s status of MLA for allegedly suppressing his marital status till now.
The Congress described Modi’s rediscovery of his marriage after 46 years as “unfortunate” and asked him if this wasn’t insensitive, irresponsible and immoral.
“If this is the way he treated his own wife, how can he promise safety for women of the country?” party spokesperson and women’s wing chief Shobha Ojha said.
She asked whether Modi was prepared to take care of his wife in the future as they hadn’t got a divorce.
Jashodaben, 62, lives with her brother in Brahmanwada, a village about 35km from Modi’s hometown Vadanagar.
Somabhai, who runs an old-age home in north Gujarat’s Mehsana district, issued a media statement “on behalf of my family”, explaining the circumstances of Modi’s marriage and subsequent behaviour and arguing why he should not be targeted.
“We had a very conservative family — socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged and heavily under the influence of social evils. Narendrabhai was different from the other brothers…. He was inspired by Swami Vivekananda and Gautam Buddha,” Somabhai’s statement said.
“But we never realised the intensity of his feelings and commitment to the nation. Our parents were illiterate, so they thought Narendrabhai was like any other boy. They married him off when he was very young.”
Two years ago, Somabhai had told The Telegraph that Modi had left home three months after his marriage and apparently travelled to the Himalayas. For about two years, no one in the family knew where he was. Somabhai had said the marriage was never consummated.
“Inspired by a burning desire to serve the nation, Narendrabhai left home one day when he was very young. The marriage with Jashodaben remained a mere ritual,” his statement today said.
“They hardly lived together. Even today, Narendrabhai is not attached to the family.… He has renounced life’s pleasures and lives like a sanyasi.”
The statement added: “We appeal to our countrymen that the (marriage) be viewed in the context of the (family’s) poverty and the conservative traditions of those days. Our nation has a tradition of people voluntarily giving up worldly pleasures and living for the country. This is what Narendrabhai has done.”
On the charge that Modi had earlier hidden his marital status, another of his brothers, Prahlad, pointed out that the chief minister had never denied his marriage, merely leaving the column on “spouse” blank.
A Modi loyalist admitted the matter was “sensitive” but argued it would not harm the politician. “It’s not as though he deserted his wife for another woman. His wife is happy. She is living her life and he is living his.”
A women’s rights activist, Meenaxiben, dubbed Modi a “hypocrite” saying that such behaviour was unacceptable from someone who aspired to become Prime Minister.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh tweeted: “Can women of this country trust a man who stalks a woman, deprives his wife of her right?”
The charge of stalking relates to Gujarat police’s surveillance of a woman in 2009 allegedly at the behest of higher-ups in the state government.
In the column on the assets and liabilities of the candidate’s spouse, Modi has written that he has no information about it.
District electoral officer Rao has rejected a plea by the Vadodara Congress candidate, Madhusudan Mistry, to disqualify Modi’s candidature because of his failure to provide details of his wife’s assets and liabilities, or her PAN card number and bank account details, PTI reported.
Modi had filed his affidavit at 11am yesterday but it was only around midnight that it was put on the notice board at electoral officer Rao’s office. Almost at the same time, it was uploaded on the Election Commission website.
The official reason is that with as many as 12 candidates filing their papers yesterday, it took time to scrutinise all their papers. All the 12 affidavits were made public at the same time.