NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Rahul Gandhi on Friday laid into opposition candidate Narendra Modi for acknowledging for the first time only this week that he is married, the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter fight to form the next government.
Modi, 63, is the favourite to become prime minister when election results are announced on May 16, polls show, and uses stump speeches to accuse the Gandhi family of decades of misrule.
After dodging questions for years about a woman named Jashoda Chiman Modi who says they had an arranged wedding more than 40 years ago, Modi publicly acknowledged that he is married in election documents filed on Wednesday.
In the papers filed to run for a seat in Gujarat’s Vadodara constituency, Modi wrote “Jashodaben”, using the formal Gujarati for woman at the end of her name, in a mandatory column asking about his marital status. He had left the column blank on previous occasions, including in the last Gujarat state election in 2012.
“I don’t know how many elections he has fought, for the first time he has written he is married. For the first time!” Gandhi said at a rally.
Gandhi’s ruling Congress party has repeatedly called for Modi to disclose his marital status, saying his failure to do so exposes his poor attitude to women.
Jashoda Chiman Modi, now a retired schoolteacher, lives on a monthly pension of 14,000 rupees, according to an interview she gave to the Indian Express newspaper in February. She said Modi left her after three years, during which they spent some three months together, and they parted amicably.
Modi makes a virtue of being single, saying having no children means he is less likely to be corrupt.
Modi got his start in politics through a right-wing Hindu organisation that requires a vow of celibacy from its members. Celibacy and ascetic renunciation of the comforts of family life is seen as a source of spiritual strength in Hinduism.
Congress on Friday said it filed a complaint to the electoral authorities demanding Modi be sanctioned for not having mentioned his wife in earlier filings.
Other than the election papers, Modi has not publicly commented on the filing, but his brother on Thursday said the marriage was only a “formal ritual” arranged by his parents at a very young age.
India’s election is spread out over five weeks, with the last day of polling on May 12. It was the turn of around 130 million voters across the country, including in New Delhi, on Thursday.
Campaign rhetoric has become increasingly personal and vituperative.
Modi contrasts his small-town, humble past to that of Gandhi, who was born into a powerful political family.
Last month he mentioned the Italian origin of Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi and often uses a Persian word for “prince” to describe his rival, a subtle jibe that associates the Gandhi dynasty with the foreign rule of India by the Mughal empire.
Also in March, a local legislator from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said the Gandhis should be stripped of their clothes and sent to Italy, while a Congress party candidate was remanded for two weeks after threatening to chop Modi into pieces.
Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall