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India and the single PM

May 17, 2014 13:14 IST

Narendra Modi supporters during a rally in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Amit Dave/ReutersSingle political leaders, Narendra Modi boasted recently at an election rally, can end corruption. He claimed that only those free of filial ties could end decades of corrupt rule, says Rahul Bedi.

Narendra Modi, 63, is India's seventh single prime minister to assume office after Independence in 1947.

But only his Bharatiya Janata Party predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was PM for six years till 2004, is, like Modi, a putative bachelor.

The spouses of the remaining five, of a total of 14 previous Indian PMs, had predeceased them by the time they took office.

Modi's widely accepted bachelor status, however, is quizzical.

He considers himself a modern-day 'monk with a mission' who walked away from a child marriage.

The incoming PM has never commented publicly on his childhood marriage to Jashodaben, now a 62-year-old retired schoolteacher who lives obscurely in Gujarat.

Modi acknowledged her as his wife for the first time in April while filing his election nomination papers, having ducked admitting his marital status in successive provincial polls.

A recent Supreme Court ruling mandating each electoral candidate's marital status had forced him to disclose his elapsed association with Jashodaben.

BJP spokespersons claim the marriage was never consummated as Modi left -- but not divorced -- Jashodaben as a teenager to join the ranks of the powerful Hindu revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh that discourages marriage among its senior cadres. Vajpayee too was an RSS member. Vajpayee, like Modi, too was an RSS pracharak.

But Jashodaben declared she didn't 'feel bad' about never having been accepted as Modi's wife.

'I know he is doing so due to destiny,' she declared in February in a spirit of Hindu fatalistic renunciation, widely appreciated among Indian women.

Single political leaders, Modi boasted recently at an election rally, can end corruption.

He claimed that only those free of filial ties could end decades of corrupt rule perpetuated by the outgoing Congress party dominated for decades by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Other than his abandoned wife, Modi has limited interaction with his aged mother and siblings, all of who live in Gujarat.

Of India's other single PMs, the best known are the country's first -- Jawaharlal Nehru -- and his daughter Indira Gandhi.

Nehru had been widowed for 11 years by the time he became independent India's first PM in 1947, but according to his colleagues was a consummate ladies man; historical accounts romantically link him to Lady Edwina Mountbatten amongst others.

Indira, who succeeded Nehru as PM in 1966, became a widow six years earlier following a tempestuous marriage to Feroze Gandhi, a brilliant Parsi journalist and politician.

Along with her two sons -- one of who became PM in 1984 -- she left her husband to live in Nehru's prime ministerial house in Delhi where, for years, she played his official hostess.

Rahul Bedi