Millennium Post

Question of personal integrity

Even as Narendra Modi was stomping around the country on his election tour, few outside Gujarat knew that he had a wife languishing back home. Most people were under the impression that he was a bachelor. All through his political career, he has always projected himself as a loner. Only occasionally he paid a visit to his mother.

His marriage was not a secret in Gujarat.  But, it was generally kept under wraps presumably because no one wanted to incur Modi’s displeasure. A journalist of an English magazine who had gone to the village where Jashodaben, Modi’s wife, stayed, was told to leave.

Outside of Gujarat, too, the marriage would have remained unknown but for the judicial diktat that none of the columns in the nomination paper of a candidate should remain blank. Modi was compelled, therefore, to reveal his marital status to the poll authorities this year, more than four decades after his marriage at the age of 18 in 1968. In all the earlier elections, he left the space empty.

How Jashodaben reacted to this unexpected acknowledgement is not known because she is on a pilgrimage to seek divine blessings for her husband’s political ambition. Her conduct, therefore, has shown her in a better light than her estranged spouse.

For a start, she has been uncomplaining about the kind of treatment meted out to her by her uncaring husband. Not only that, the fact that she bore no grievances was evident from her pilgrimage. This example of self-sacrifice, evident in enduring a lonely life while her husband became a well-known personality, is in the best traditions of Indian womanhood. That she has also been able to live a life of independence as a teacher is to her credit.

The resilience and grace she has exhibited for so long is quite unique, especially considering that she could not have expected to grow old in this manner when she got married. Yet, she has evidently accepted whatever fate has ordained for her with stoicism. If it wasn’t for her to have a home and children, so be it.

In contrast, Modi’s treatment of her cannot be held up as a worthy example. It is possible that he was forced into the marriage against his wishes, as is often the case with both boys and girls in traditional families. As a result, he clearly regarded the marriage as an imposition and a burden. It might also be that he was drawn so much by politics that he felt that he could not spend his life living as a typical middle class couple in the backwaters of his home town of Vadnagar.
Such a disinclination does not justify, however, the virtual desertion of his wife. Marriage is a sacrament which cannot be treated lightly. If a couple is unable to get along together for temperamental or familial reasons, a marriage can be annulled. But, walking out of it is tantamount to a wilful neglect of a husband’s obligations. The Western vow of togetherness – in sickness and health, ‘till death do us part’ – is universally applicable.

However, Modi can be held guilty not only because of his reluctance to accept the responsibilities of a householder, which Manu Smriti extols as the ‘most excellent’ of all the four stages of life – student, householder, hermit and ascetic – but also because he has shown an uncommon hardness of heart. Although he has a pleasant smile, his stony demeanour has an intimidating aspect even on television.

His critics are liable to say, therefore, that his unfeeling conduct in personal life extends into politics as well where he has been described by an American diplomat, according to Wikileaks, as ‘insular’ and ‘distrustful’. The same inward-looking attitude and the absence of sentiment can be discerned in his admission to his latest biographer Andy Marino that he felt ‘no guilt’ for the 2002 riots. If the Congress initially thought that the revelation was a godsend to a beleaguered party, as was evident from the alacrity with which Rahul Gandhi took it up, it must now be having second thoughts since Indians do not like too much delving into personal life. Although public figures do face the risk of the prying eye though, mercifully, not to the extent of what happens in the West, there is an unwritten code about privacy in this country which cannot be violated.

As it is, this election has seen one of the most scurrilous campaigns according to the election commission. It will be a pity, therefore, if personal life becomes a part of political propaganda. At the same time, the election commission may have to say what it thinks of Modi’s earlier omissions in this respect. Were they a violation of the law on the grounds of suppression?

Moreover, Jashodaben can now expect to be far more in the public eye than in the last four decades, especially if Modi rises higher in the political hierarchy. Both her reclusiveness and his secrecy are now a thing
of the past. IPA
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