A day after BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi declared in his poll affidavit filed in Vadodara that he was a married man and that his wife’s name is Jashodaben, his elder brother Sombhai Modi issued a statement here on Thursday to explain that the marriage was forced on a teenaged Narendra.
Sombhai said the marriage was forced on Modi by his parents when he was a teenager in keeping with the old orthodox tradition of fixing marriages between children and that it was never consummated as Modi walked out of the marriage soon after it was solemnised.
Dwelling on the reasons of the Gujarat Chief Minister’s act, Sombhai said a young Modi did it in response to an inner call to work for the nation and the society inspired by the teachings of Swami Vivekanand.
For a woman who was a relatively unknown face – especially as the wife of a powerful leader – for almost 50 years, Jashodaben seems to have come a long way in asserting her rights and privileges. Here are a few things that you should know about the Prime Minister’s wife:
1. Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi and Narendra Modi’s marriage was arranged by the latter’s parents, in keeping with the traditions of the Ghanchi caste. While the two were engaged when Modi was 13 years of age, they got married in 1968, when Modi was 18 years of age. The marriage took place in Modi’s native village, Vadnagar, in Mehsana distrcit.
The couple lived together for 3 months, after which Modi left home to travel across India, journeying as a ‘sanyasi’, as he described it to his family. After a period of three years, Modi stopped visiting his wife and family, as he got involved in his work as a RSS pracharak. Media reports state that the marriage was never consummated.
2. Immediately after her marriage to Modi, Jashodaben, who had studied only till class VII, decided to complete her education. She started studying in Dholaka and completed her school education (old pattern SSC) in 1972. She then went on to do her primary teacher’s course, after which she started working as a teacher.
According to Jashodaben, Modi always encouraged her to study further. In an interview to a Gujarati news channel, she said attributed her success in life and as a teacher to Modi’s early encouragement.
During the latter part of her teaching years, Jashodaben survived on a salary of 10,000 rupees per month. She retired in October 2009 and is currently entitled to a government pension of 14,000 rupees per month.
3. A 2009 Open magazine media report, which was one of the early introductions to Jashodaben, indicated that she was being observed and controlled by powerful people. The report quoted her as saying, “I will not say anything against my husband. He is very powerful. This job is all I have to survive. I am afraid of the consequences.”
However, in a separate interview to Financial Express, Jashodaben claimed that she was not in touch with her estranged husband. She said, “We parted on good terms as there were never any fights between us. There has been no communication from his end to this day.”
In the same interview she also stated that she didn’t feel bad for not being acknowledged by Modi, as his wife, for all these years. She blamed their situation on destiny and bad times.
4. Despite a non-existent marriage, Jashodaben has fond memories of her meetings with Modi in the past. A nostalgic Jashodaben told Indian Express, “Once I had come to meet him with Hiraba (Modi’s mother) at the RSS shakha in Vadnagar. He had hurt his hand and I put medicine on it. Another time he had acted in a play called ‘Ek Phool, Do Maali’, which I went for. After the play got over, I told him he was very good in it. If it is in my fate that we are meant to be together then we will be. I have also moved forward in life because of him. I have never interfered in his life and nor has he.”
5. Jashodaben and Modi met for the last time in 1987, as stated by her in an interview with Indian Express. When asked to describe this meeting by ETV, she said that Modi apologized to her for not staying with her all those years and asked her to consider divorce and re-marriage and carry on with her life. She however replied saying, “Why would I re-marry? You move forward on your path and I will on mine.”
The Telegraph also reported that Modi, along with his brother Somabhai visited Jashodaben in 1987, to attempt and work out a mutual divorce. She however did not agree to this arrangement.
Though she was not physically present with her husband, Jashodaben said that she followed all his activities via media reports. In an interview with the Financial Express, she stated that she devoured everything she could get her hands on – right from newspaper articles to watching the news. “I like to read about him,” she said.
6. Today, Jashodaben lives with her older brother Ashok Modi in Unjha town of Gujarat’s Mehsana district. However, she also keeps visiting the home of her other brother, who lives in Brahman Vada near Unjha. A retired teacher, who taught classes from the first to fifth grade, Jashodaben now spends all her time in prayer. In an interview with Financial Express, she said, “Nowadays, I mostly start my day by 4 am and begin with prayers to Ambe Ma (Goddess Durga).”
During the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, Jashodaben claimed that she prayed for her husband’s success. She claimed that she was always confident that Modi would become the Prime Minister, because of his hard work and dedication.
A media report quoted her brother, saying, “She had taken a pledge of not eating rice or any preparation made out of it till he (Modi) becomes a Prime Minister.”