Blind hatred for one man getting the better of good sense of many intellectuals and politicians.
Narendra Modi has become the target of a vicious attack by his opponents after he declared his wife’s name in his poll affidavit filed in Vadodara. This was the first time that Modi acknowledged that he is married. During assembly elections in 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2012, Modi had left the column of spouse blank.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal has filed a petition with the Election Commission seeking action against Modi for hiding his marriage in his previous poll affidavits, and the Gujarat Congress has threatened to take legal action over the issue. Incidentally, in November 2013, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a PIL accusing Modi over not stating spouse details in his nomination papers in the 2012 assembly polls.
Congress, desperate to overcome a strong anti-incumbency wave and to stop Modi from racing to 7 RCR, has crossed the line that separates politics from private. On 11 April, Rahul Gandhi stooped to a personal attack on Modi by saying that it took several elections for BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate to mention the name of his wife. The charges leveled against Modi by his adversaries include, disrespecting women by hiding his marital status, misguiding the nation, lying by omission, dumping his wife and depriving her of rights, and having a questionable moral character. While Mahila Congress in Delhi burned Modi’s effigy, the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee President Arjun Modhwadia is grumbling that the state Chief Minister did not counter a film actress who had called him the ‘most eligible bachelor.’
One, the September 2013 Supreme Court judgment that has made it mandatory for candidates to fill in their poll affidavits fully, does not apply retrospectively. Earlier, it was OK to leave a few options blank. Thus, Modi had not flouted any law by not mentioning his marital status during the several Gujarat assembly elections. This time, when required to fill in all the details, he complied. It should be noted that it is not mandated to reveal the name of the spouse, but the BJP PM candidate declared his wife as Jashodaben Modi (her maiden name).
Modi declared ignorance about her PAN card number and income, which is understandable given that he has had no contact with her for over four and half decades now. Interestingly, Manmohan Singh, in his Rajya Sabha nomination affidavit in May 2013, had not furnished his wife’s name or her PAN and other details.
Two, Modi may have chosen not to speak about his marriage, which was finalised when he was a child and solemnised when he was still a minor, but he has never claimed that he is unmarried. His marriage was short lived and was not consummated.
In the 60s, child brides in small villages were forced to terminate their education to take up the burden of domestic responsibilities, early pregnancies and taking care of the babies. The social scene was such that even if Modi had abandoned her, Jashodaben would have spent her whole life serving his family. However, Modi encouraged her to go back to her parents’ home to complete her education. She left him, followed his advice and became a teacher. Today, she gets a monthly pension of Rs 14,000 thanks to Modi’s insistence on studies. What is better for a woman — to become self-reliant and live with dignity, or to surrender to a child marriage that her husband is not willing to accept or consummate, stay uneducated and dependent on the husband’s family?
Three, Modi’s wife could have taken the legal recourse for saving her marriage according to the provisions of law, or could have sought maintenance or divorce. She chose against all of it out of her own accord. Modi was a nobody for ten years since he left his home — was not influential enough to intimidate or influence his wife or in-laws to keep quiet — and yet his wife did not take any legal action against him.
Modi never divorced his wife, which shows that grihasti was totally off his mind and that he never intended to remarry. This establishes that he did not have a problem with Jashodaben as a person, but was genuinely driven by a cause and was not willing to let family ties distract him from his mission.
Four, Modi’s political rivals have no right to rake up an almost 50-year old personal issue, make it about women rights, and impose their views on Jashodaben, who has no problem with Modi and who fasts and prays for him to become the Prime Minister.
Five, Modi has always said, mere aage peeche koi nahi hai, kiske liye bhrashtachaar karunga (I have no family ties, who would I be corrupt for). Given that the existence of Modi’s mother and brothers was known to the people, it is unreasonable to take literal translation of his statement. Modi has maintained that he has no family entanglements or responsibilities, and has dedicated himself to the nation. The simple lives led by his family members are a testimony to the fact that Modi has not used his position for their benefit. His youngest brother, a clerk in the information department of the Gujarat government, has not received undue promotions. None of the family members, including his mother, live in the CM bungalow. It is in this context, that his statement should be understood.
Six, RSS, BJP and Congress leaders of Gujarat were aware of Modi’s child marriage from the time he became politically relevant in the state. Shankersinh Vaghela, former RSS and BJP leader who joined the Congress in 1999, and is now the Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, has come out in support of Modi stating that he has known Modi for decades and that Modi has never stayed with his wife. Vaghela also appealed to his party men not to sensationalise Modi’s marital status.
Modhwadia has been talking about Modi’s wife for years now. In early 2001, when Modi contested the by-election to the Rajkot-2 assembly seat, four months after becoming the Gujarat CM, the Congress party had distributed pamphlets about Modi’s marriage. In April 2009, the Open magazine had tracked Jashodaben down, and the article was circulated widely by the critics of Modi. So, Modi’s wife was not exactly a state secret.
Why did the Congress not file complaint against Modi’s poll affidavit in 2001 itself? Why did it wait till the 2014 General elections to take legal action against Modi over his marital status in past affidavits? The move clearly betrays the Congress frustration as they have run out of options to defeat Modi electorally.
Seven, if political leaders were judged by their private lives by the voters, Jawaharlal Nehru would not have become the longest serving PM of this nation. The Gandhi scion and the Congress party would also do well to remember how a widowed Maneka Gandhi and her three-year old son were thrown out of her matrimonial house at midnight by Indira Gandhi.
Lastly, in January, Congress minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife was found dead in mysterious conditions and within 48-hours of making explosive revelations that Tharoor was honey-trapped by the ISI and that she had taken Tharoor’s IPL sins on her head. The Delhi police has confirmed that it has not given a clean chit to Tharoor in the case. Still, the Congress party requests to respect Tharoor’s personal life and privacy. However, Modi’s personal life is a fair game, and it is all right to disrespect privacy of his estranged wife and drag her into a political slugfest to target Modi in the name of women’s rights.