NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the ruling Congress party, yesterday accused opposition election frontrunner Narendra Modi of hypocrisy over his belated disclosure that he is married. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) premier candidate Modi, 63, is routinely described as a bachelor and is thought to have lived alone in his adult life, having risen through the ranks of a grassroots Hindu nationalist organisation in which celibacy is expected.
But on Wednesday, Modi acknowledged he had a wife in an affidavit while filing papers to run for the national parliament in western Gujarat state.
Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of India’s famous political dynasty and unwed himself, is leading the campaign for Congress, which is tipped to lose to the BJP in elections that began this week. He said Modi promises respect and security for women while on the campaign trail but never acknowledges his own wife.
“I don’t know how many elections he (Modi) has fought before but this is the first time he’s mentioned he’s married,” Gandhi told an election rally in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, has contested seats four times in the state’s regional assembly but never previously revealed his marital status on affidavits.
“In Delhi, posters read ‘respect for women’ but his wife’s name never reaches his affidavit,” Gandhi said.
In the column of the affidavit mentioning spouses, Modi wrote the name “Jashodaben”. But he stated elsewhere in the filing he had “no information” about her. Modi’s brother said in a statement on Thursday that Modi was betrothed as a child to the now 62-year-old retired schoolteacher, who gave an interview in February in which she said she didn’t “feel bad” about not being part of her husband’s life. “I know he is doing so due to destiny,” Modi’s wife told The Indian Express in February. The marriage, which some say was formalised when Modi was 17, is never believed to have been consummated. Modi went on to rise through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu group which frowns on marriage for its senior cadres.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and Law Minister Kapil Sibal complained to the Election Commission, saying Modi had violated the law by keeping his marital status a secret. “An aspirant for prime minister must have forthrightness and integrity,” he told reporters after meeting poll officials in New Delhi.
But the BJP leadership sprang to Modi’s defence and accused Congress of raking up personal issues.
“Congress has no right to question Modi about his personal life. Modi has sacrificed his personal life and comfort in the service of the nation,” said BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar.
India’s mammoth national election, which kicked off on Monday, has been described as a “battle of the bachelors” pitting Gandhi against Modi. Results are due on May 16. Last month, Rahul Gandhi said he would wed “when I find the right girl”. In the past, he has been linked to several foreign girlfriends.AFP