Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters as he rides in an open jeep on his way to file nomination papers on April 9, 2014 in Vadodra, India.
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April 10, 2014 4:01 AM EDT

Controversial politician Narendra Modi, the favorite to be the next Indian prime minister, has acknowledged for the first time that he is married, confirming long-running rumors.

Many thought that BJP leader had remained alone his adult life, having come through the ranks of a grassroots Hindu nationalist organization that requires a vow of celibacy.

Previous media reports suggested he walked away from an arranged marriage when just a child, but this has never been confirmed by the ascetic 63-year-old, who would frequently extoll the merits of his single status during stump speeches.

“I have no family ties, I am single. Who will I be corrupt for?” he said during campaigning in February.

But as he filed papers Wednesday, to stand as a MP for western Gujarat state’s Vadadora constituency, he finally acknowledged, in an affidavit, that he had a wife.

Rumors had been circulating for years that a 62-year-old retired school teacher in Gujurat, Jashodaben, had been married to Modi. A magazine tracked her down in 2009 but she refused to give speak to them. However, she finally gave an interview in February and confirmed that the couple separated three years into their marriage — at the ages of 17 and 18 respectively — and since then “we have never been in touch.”

The revelation was quickly seized upon by senior opposition figures, including Congress Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh.

Singh’s reference to “stalking” pertains to a 2009 controversy in which a female architect was put under surveillance — allegedly on the orders of Modi.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, launched a scathing attack on Modi Wednesday, accusing him of presenting a false image of Gujarat, India’s most developed state, where he is chief minister.

“Some people are talking of themselves in a big way. It is an old habit. They are projecting an image as if Gujarat is the only state that has developed,” Sonia said at a rally in this south Karnataka town bordering Andhra Pradesh, according to Indian Express. “It is another matter that the poor have made sacrifices for this development.”

More than 814 million Indians will vote over the coming five weeks, with parts of 14 states and the capital New Delhi currently casting ballots. Analysts say these may be the most important polls in four decades.

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