The man she claims is still her “husband” is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and is considered the frontrunner for the top job this year. But Jashodaben, 62, a retired school teacher who was married to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi when she was 17 — and separated after about three years — is far removed from the rough and tumble of politics.
She gets a monthly pension of Rs 14,000, lives mostly with a brother and spends much of her time in prayer. In Ahmedabad to visit her extended family, she agreed to be interviewed by The Indian Express but refused to be photographed. Excerpts from her first interview since Modi was named PM candidate:
For how long were you married and what is the status of the marriage?
We married when I was 17… I had quit studies once I went to his place and remember him saying he wanted me to pursue my education. He would mostly talk to me about completing my education. Initially he took interest in talking to me and even in the affairs of the kitchen.
Do you feel burdened by the relationship, especially when the media asks you about your strained relationship? Are you instructed to remain low profile?
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We have never been in touch and we parted on good terms as there were never any fights between us. I will not make up things that are not true. In three years, we may have been together for all of three months. There has been no communication from his end to this day.
Do you track the news about Narendra Modi?
Yes, I read everything that I can get my hands on. I read all the newspaper articles and also watch news on the television and like to read about him.
If he becomes the next Prime Minister and moves to Delhi, would you like to go back to him, if he calls you back? Will you try and meet him?
I have never gone to meet him and we have never been in touch. I don’t think he will ever call me. In whatever I say, I do not want it to harm him. I just wish that he progresses in whatever he does. I know he will become PM one day!
Did he ever tell you he was leaving you or quitting the marriage?
He told me once that “I will be travelling across the country and will go as and where I please; what will you do following me?” When I came to Vadnagar to live with his family, he told me “why did you come to your in-laws’ house when you are still so young, you must instead focus on pursuing your studies”. The decision to leave was my own and there was never any conflict between us. He never spoke to me about the RSS or about his political leanings. When he told me he would be moving around the country as he wished, I told him I would like to join him. However, on many occasions when I went to my in-laws’ place, he would not be present and he stopped coming there. He used to spend a lot of time in RSS shakhas. So I too stopped going there after a point and I went back to my father’s house.
Are you still legally Modi’s wife?
Every time people take his name, I am also mentioned somewhere, even though in the background. Did you not come all the way and look all over, to find me and come and speak to me? If I was not his wife, would you have come to speak to me?
Do you feel slighted that your status as a wife has not been acknowledged by him in all these years?
No. I don’t feel bad, because I know that he is doing so due to destiny and bad times. In such situations he has to say such things and also has to lie. I don’t see my situation as being bad because I feel, in a way, my luck has improved too.
Why have you never remarried?
After this experience, I don’t think I want to. My heart is not into it.
How did you support yourself after you moved back to your parents’ house?
My in-laws treated me well, but would never speak about the marriage. My father paid the fees for my studies and I also got some financial assistance from my brothers to continue my education. I had lost my mother when I was two years old and I lost my father two years after I started studying again and was in class 10. However, once I started my studies, I started to enjoy learning and did my SSC in 1974, and went on to complete my teachers training in 1976 and became a teacher in 1978.
How do you spend your retired days?
I enjoyed teaching and taught classes from the first to fifth grade and taught all subjects. Nowadays, I mostly start my day by 4 am and begin with prayers to Ambe Ma (Goddess Durga). I spend all my time in Bhakti (prayer). I mostly live with my elder brother Ashok Modi who lives in Unjha but I keep visiting the home of my other brother who lives in Brahman Vada near Unjha whenever I feel like. I feel I have got good brothers who have supported me.