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Asia, Asian Opinions

Amrit Dhillon
Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014

Asia, Asian Opinions

Where celibacy is seen as prized virtue

The Straits Times | Amrit Dhillon | Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014

Mr Narendra Modi (left) was married as a teenager by his parents but barely lived with his wife before leaving her to join a social organisation that places a premium on celibacy, while Mr Rahul Gandhi (right) has never admitted to having a woman in his life, nor has he been seen in public with one.

Isn't it odd that the two men who aspire to be India's next prime minister are both bachelors?

In another country, yes. In India, no, which is why few people have even commented on the fact that both Mr Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, and Mr Rahul Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party, are single.

The bearded Mr Modi, 63, was married as a teenager by his parents but barely lived with his wife before leaving her to join a social organisation that places a premium on celibacy. He is leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, widely tipped to win the general election that is under way.

As for Mr Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty, he has been photographed with a Latin American "girlfriend" but that was many years ago.

Since then, he has never admitted to having a woman - if indeed he has one - in his life and has certainly not been seen in public with one.

Many of the other top female politicians fighting in the election are also single: Ms Mamata Banerjee from West Bengal, Ms Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh and Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram from Tamil Nadu. Moreover, they deliberately project themselves as being uninterested in marriage, the better to appear totally committed to the nation.

With the media coverage of the election campaign dissecting every aspect of politicians' lives, the fact that so many are celibate has exposed a peculiarly Indian way of looking at public figures.

In other countries, men and women who are married and have children tend to be regarded as more reassuring than those who are single. They represent family values and suggest emotional stability, whereas celibacy is a rarity, linked to joining a monastic order or a nunnery.

In India, it's the reverse. Married leaders are thought to be more corrupt and nepotistic, more likely to have a battalion of relatives - right down to third cousins and great aunts - bent on enriching themselves while the leader is in office.

Here, single leaders are often preferred as celibacy is a highly regarded virtue, as though these people are somehow more evolved and morally superior. Mr Modi is aware of this Indian predisposition and he has deliberately broadcast his single status, telling voters he has no reason to be corrupt because he has no family.

Mr Rahul Gandhi's Congress Party is also happy with his single status because it enables him to come across as someone who is devoted to the welfare of the nation to the exclusion of all else.

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