Ahmedabad, June 11: The BJP's unease with any visibility offered to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's wife Jashodaben appeared to be in evidence last week when the party engaged its big guns to shut down a social awareness event she was attending as a guest.
The retired schoolteacher, whom a teenaged Modi had left soon after their 1968 marriage, had arrived at the seven-day event in Surat organised by the NaMo Sena, a Modi fan club, on its second day on June 4.
Immediately, according to the organisers, Surat BJP president Pranesh Modi and two party MLAs summoned and arm-twisted them into ending the event straightaway, five days before its scheduled end.
Even BJP national president Amit Shah rapped the organisers over the phone, NaMo Sena founder and Sangh-VHP activist Sanjay Goswami told The Telegraph.
He said neither Pranesh nor Shah mentioned Jashodaben. "They cited the display of the BJP symbol at the event (the Sena has no official link with the party) as the reason for their objections."
But, Goswami added, the event - organised in support of the Centre's Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign for the girl child's welfare - had progressed smoothly for two days till Jashodaben arrived.
News of her arrival seemed to have reached the local party bosses in minutes. Goswami, his wife Sandhya, Sena national president Avinandan Pathak and its Surat chief Rakesh Jain were summoned to Pranesh's home, where MLAs Praful Pansheriya and Janak Kachhadiya too were present.
Back at the venue, Jashodaben expressed a desire to address the gathering. "But by then we had received the summons and sensed trouble. We dissuaded her and she agreed not to speak," Goswami said.
At Pranesh's office, the organisers "were threatened and pressured into ending the function", Goswami said.
"When we demanded to know the reason, the city BJP chief asked Pathak to talk to Amit Shah over the phone. Shah scolded Pathak and asked him to leave Surat at once. He left for his home in Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh)."
Pranesh refused comment. Surat mayor Niranjan Janjhmera claimed ignorance about the incident, as did almost every city BJP official or MLA this newspaper spoke to.
After Modi left her, a teenaged Jashodaben had returned to her family home in Mehsana where she lives with her two brothers. She has never complained against her husband publicly, nor have political opponents been able to corner Modi over his treatment of his wife, but the BJP continues to be touchy about her.
Last November, when she told the media she was ready to live with her husband if he made the offer, Modi's elder brother Somabhai had ruled it out as "impossible" and expressed unhappiness that Jashodaben was speaking to the media and "attending functions".
Pathak told this newspaper he had left Surat "because I had been camping there for more than three weeks". Asked why the programme was cut short, he claimed the organisers had run out of funds.
"Absolutely wrong," rebutted Bhupat Dhamelia, a Surat-based builder who had offered to bear the expenses. "Money couldn't have been the reason the function was truncated."
Religious preacher Ashwin Joshi, who was to speak at the event all seven days, said he could not continue as the tent and makeshift dais were removed on the second evening.
"I don't know whether it was because of Jashodaben but I could sense tension all around the venue," Joshi said.