India’s PM front-runner Modi discloses marriage for the first time

Friday, 11 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

REUTERS: Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist who is front-runner to become India’s next prime minister, has publicly stated for the first time that he is married. He made the declaration in election papers filed this week, having long avoided questions on his personal life. Modi has campaigned as the standard bearer of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which polls show will win the biggest chunk of parliamentary seats in the five-week election that started on Monday, but fall short of a majority. Yet the Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat is a solitary figure who has little contact with his family and entered politics through a grassroots Hindu organisation that prizes celibacy. He rarely gives interviews and little is known about his private life. India’s ruling Congress party has repeatedly called for Modi to disclose his marital status, following local reports in recent years that he had an arranged marriage at the age of 17 to a woman whom he soon deserted but never officially divorced. Critics say the episode exposes his poor attitude to women. In election papers filed on Wednesday to run for a seat in Gujarat’s Vadodara constituency, Modi wrote the name “Jashodaben” in a mandatory column regarding his marital status. He had left the column blank on previous occasions, including in the last Gujarat state election in 2012. “Modi accepts his marital status. Can women of this country trust a man who ... deprives his wife of her right?” Congress’ General Secretary Digvijaya Singh tweeted on Thursday. Modi wrote “not known” in the affidavit as to further information on his wife, such as the details of her income and assets. In Gujarati, the formal term “ben” is often attached to the end of women’s names and “bhai” is used for men. Jashoda Chiman Modi, now a retired schoolteacher, lives frugally on a monthly pension of 14,000 rupees ($ 232), according to an interview she gave to the Indian Express newspaper in February. She said Modi left her after three years, during which they spent some three months together, and they parted amicably.