Modi: no remorse but riding high!
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How the past continues to haunt NarendraModi ! First, his inadequacies as a student of history were revealed when he drew a fanciful picture of Alexander the Great’s itinerary in India. Now, his lapses as a householder, described in Hindu scriptures as the most important stage in one’s life, have been revealed following his belated acknowledgment that he has a wife.
However, it isn’t the pangs of a guilty conscience which have induced him to tell the truth, but a judicial order that no spaces in the nomination form of poll candidates can be left blank. This was exactly what he had been doing in all the earlier elections in Gujarat. The fact that his marital status was always known in the state was no deterrent, presumably because he did not expect anyone to have the gumption to challenge him.
The reporters of a magazine who had gone to a village in search of Modi’s wife, Jashodaben, did meet her, but was told by some people to leave. In recent times, another news item about her has appeared, but it is a cursory affair because Jashodaben is a reclusive person.
For Modi, the tryst with secrecy was no longer possible outside his fiefdom of Gujarat and also because of the judicial diktat. But, what the episode has revealed is that the man is not comfortable with his past. It isn’t his beginnings as a tea vendor of which he is ashamed; on the contrary, he is proud of it because it reinforces his image as a man of the people. It is also a matter of pride for Indian democracy that someone from such an ordinary background can realistically aspire to be the prime minister.
But, what he is evidently uneasy about is an unwanted relationship which was forced upon him when he was 18 and which he apparently saw as an imposition and a burden. Yet, in deciding to go his own way, it clearly didn’t occur to him that he was evading his marital responsibilities by virtually abandoning his wife.
It is another matter that Jashodaben has been able to live a life of independence as a teacher and even prays for Modi’s success in the true traditions of an Indian wife and is going on a pilgrimage in aid of his prime ministerial ambitions. Ironically, her dedication to an uncaring husband shows Modi in a poorer light. Not only has he not kept his side of the bargain by declining to fulfil his duties as a husband and leaving his wife to fend for herself, but he has also shown her the ultimate disrespect by refusing to acknowledge her as a wife until forced to do so by a legal necessity.
It would have been different if Modi had divorced her. But, treating her as a nobody while still being formally married to her is unconscionable. It shows a hardness of heart, which his critics will say is typical of a man who feels “no guilt” about the 2002 riots, as he told his latest biographer, Andy Marino. According to a Mumbai newspaper, after Modi’s failure to comply with raj dharma or the rules of governance during the riots, his failure to respect ’;pati dharma’; or the duties of a husband is under scrutiny.
Modi’s case has been further complicated by the allegations of the so-called snoopgate, which say that he had ordered police and intelligence surveillance of a young woman. It was said to be for her protection, but the unusual interest taken in her by the chief minister has raised several questions. Hence, the state government itself has ordered an inquiry.
The charge that his critics are probing his personal life is untenable since a man in public life, whether in politics or films or sports, cannot escape from the prying eye. This is particularly applicable to politicians, which is why they have to declare the assets of their own and of their wives when standing for elections. The reason is that the voters must know who they are voting for.
Modi’s desire, therefore, to draw a curtain over at least one aspect of his life – some would say a vital one – till he was left with no option has understandably exposed him to the machinations of his opponents to trap him in a legal tangle. It is difficult to see how he can escape with his honour intact because the mistreatment of a wife cannot but put a black mark on his career, especially when he has done so well for himself.
Since the BJP projects itself as a champion of Hindus, the party will do well to leaf through the Manu Smriti, the text of the ancient law-giver, which says that “women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands and brothers-in-law … where women, verily, are honoured, there the gods rejoice”.
For Modi, who has neglected this precept, the last few days haven’t brought good news. For instance, his aide, Amit Shah, is facing a ban on speaking in public and criminal proceedings for his “hate” speeches. Modi, of course, is carrying on as before. But, there must be a nagging doubt in his mind as to how the people will see his desertion of his wife.