In Brahmanwada village, near the ancient town of Vadnagar in Mehsana district, Jassiben, as she is known locally, is the grandmother, who spends most of her time reading religious books and is popular among children for distributing prasad every day. At 62, she has no children or grandchildren of her own to keep her busy. Her husband, Narendra Modi, the 63-year-old PM candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, hardly met her after their wedding in 1968, and after three years, never returned.
On April 9, more than four decades after their marriage, Modi finally acknowledged Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi as his wife,
as Jashodaben Narendra Modi, when filing his nomination for the Vadodara parliamentary constituency and recently, for the Varanasi constituency, prodded by a Supreme Court judgment that requires candidates to fill in all the columns in the nomination form. Since the marriage was never registered, all the official documents mention her maiden name.
The locals and family, of course, knew. “When I got married seven years ago, I knew I was going to the home of Narendra Modi’s wife,” says Daksha, the daughter-in-law of Jashodaben’s youngest brother Ashok alias Pravin Modi, in whose house she stays.
One of the two doors of the two-room house opens to a kirana shop, Modi General Stores. A worn-out wooden table inside lays out an assortment of wares — from flavoured candies to soaps — in the room, which also serves as the living room. The second room serves as a kitchen and sleeping area. A tin trunk here serves as a stand for a small TV in a corner.
“Since she is a member of the Swaminarayan sect, she does not eat onion and garlic, and eats only twice a week. Recently, she gave up rice, and is now on a barefoot pilgrimage, as part of her vow to see Narendrabhai as PM,” says her niece Sonal, showing photos of Jashodaben at her own wedding last year.
Though the family claims that she is on Char Dham yatra and will be back on May 17, a day after the elections results will be declared, her whereabouts have not been known ever since Modi filed his nomination papers. Recently, there were rumours that
she was spotted at Ramdev’s ashram in the Himalayas.
“She spends most of her time in bhakti,” says Ashok’s wife Jayaben, reluctant to give more details. A few more questions upsets her, “You will get your story, but we have to face the samaaj (society) after that,” she says, adding that we had been lucky to get an interview with Jashodaben once and should not expect more.
In January, when The Indian Express met Jashodaben, she spoke in detail about her marriage to Modi, going public for the first time, after he became the PM candidate. A bride of 17, she left her education mid-way for marriage. However, she spent just about three months with him across three years. “Initially, he took interest in talking to me continued…