Biography of candidate in Indian election has asterisk: A wife, of sorts

c.2014 New York Times News Service

NEW DELHI — At a campaign rally this year, Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, offered this curious qualification for the post of India’s prime minister: He could not possibly be corrupt because he is a bachelor.

“Why would I indulge in corruption? For whom?” reasoned Modi, 63. “There is no one behind me or in front of me,” he continued, using a Hindi phrase that means he has no family. “I surrender this body. I surrender this heart.”

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Modi revised his official biography Wednesday, when he noted on an election registry that he is, in fact, married. In four previous registrations, he has left the question of his marital status blank, but scrutiny over the question steadily mounted as he became the front-runner for the post of prime minister.

It was his first official acknowledgment of an arranged marriage he abandoned soon after the wedding some 45 years ago.

Modi and the BJP took pains to keep the marriage quiet for many years, even when reporters managed to interview his wife, a village schoolteacher. He was silent Thursday, though his oldest brother, Somabhai Damodardas Modi, released a statement saying that the marriage “was left as a formality” and that his brother had left the woman, Jashodaben Chimanlal, because he had chosen a life of service.

Though leaders of the Congress Party accused Modi of deceiving the public, it was unclear whether news of his marriage — which was apparently not consummated — would damage Modi.

The journalists who have found Chimanlal have painted a sad picture, though. Early this year, she told The Indian Express that they had spent no more than three months together when he announced that “I will be travelling across the country and will go as and where I please,” and that she had not heard from him since.

She said had not remarried, because “after this experience, I don’t think I want to. My heart is not into it.” She told the newspaper she was living on a monthly pension of 14,000 rupees, or about $233.

Journalists who rushed to Chimanlal’s village Thursday found that she was gone, and some said she had departed on a religious pilgrimage.

“Her prayers have been answered, as Narendra has publicly accepted her as his wife,” he said. Modi’s sister, Vasanti, told the newspaper that the family held Chimanlal in high regard. “Despite being abandoned, Jashoda never spoke ill of him,” she said. “That is a true Indian woman for you.”