Jashodaben raises hand for local charity

Estranged wife of Prime Minister Narendra Modi fasts for slum dwellers

Updated - February 13, 2016 05:38 am IST

Published - February 13, 2016 12:00 am IST - MUMBAI:

Jashodaben Modi on dharna at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on Friday.— Photo: Vivek Bendre

Jashodaben Modi on dharna at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on Friday.— Photo: Vivek Bendre

Jashodaben Modi, estranged wife of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Friday emerged as an unusual mascot of a local charity to demand that slums shouldn’t be demolished during the monsoon period as it renders the poor homeless and exposes them to disease and danger.

Ms Modi sat on a day-long hunger strike along with her younger brother Ashok Modi and the local charity’s members, but appeared unclear on the cause she was representing while speaking to mediapersons.

The Good Samaritan Mission (GSM), the charity that invited Ms Modi, runs a children’s home at Vikhroli. Brother S Peter Paul Raj, who set up the mission in 1994, said slum protection had been its long pending demand with the government and the civic body.

Ms Modi, who reached Mumbai on Friday morning, sat on the dharna at Azad Maidan dressed in a bright purple sari, paired with matching hair clips and a bindi. She said she had first come to Mumbai in 2014 to see the city and was staying at Mira Road with a family who she knew from her village.

Main yahan ghoomne aayi thi (I had come here to see the city). Then they (GSM) contacted me and I saw the seva (care) they were giving children,” she said, speaking in broken Hindi interspersed with Gujarati. She again visited Mumbai in August 2015 and visited the GSM’s ashram at Vikhroli. The mission’s members too visited her at her residence in Brahmanwada village of Unjha town of Mehsana district.

“She readily agreed to our invitation,” Brother Raj said, adding that when he extended her the invitation she immediately told him to speak to her brother Ashok Modi, who manages her affairs. He alleged that State agencies had put pressure on him to ensure Ms Modi did not come to Mumbai. Ms Modi is scheduled to leave Mumbai for Mehsana on Friday evening by train. “ Padri (priest) sahab invited me so I told him I will come,” she said. Asked if she knew the cause she was representing, she said: “They (GSM) work with small children so I came to see that.”

Prodded by her brother Ashok Modi, she said she was here to protect slums from being demolished. Her brother, Mr Modi, added: “Last month we were told if she sits on a hunger strike, it will help their cause. So we are both fasting with them.”

Mr Modi, who runs a grocery store in Unjha, said he was involved in social activities but this was the first time they had been invited by a social organisation. Asked if Jashodaben Modi will take up social work actively, he said it depended on the invitations that were made to them.

Members of the mission said their last agitation to protect slums was in 2014 when the civic body had taken cognisance of their demand. They said some slums were demolished in 2015, but no protests were staged then “as there was no time”, a member said.

This year, the mission had already written to the Prime Minister, who directed its application to the Maharashtra government. Brother Raj admitted Ms Modi’s presence would get them and their cause much attention - “her presence is equivalent to that of one crore people”. A little later, he added: “We see Mother Teresa in Jashodaben.”

Incidentally, a High Court order restricts the civic body from carrying out slum demolitions during the monsoon months of June, July and August.

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