Next week a court in the state of Kerala, southern India, will hear a petition from an unhappy citizen who doesn’t want Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph on his Covid-19 vaccine certificate.
The man, known as Peter M, wants a new certificate without Modi’s photo because, he says, “it violates my fundamental rights”. Peter M is a 62-year-old right to information activist and member of India’s main opposition congressional party.
“By putting his photo on my certificate, he is intruding into the private space of the citizens. It is unconstitutional and I am asking the honorable Prime Minister to immediately stop this wrong and shameful act,” Peter told the BBC on the phone from his home in the district. by Kottayam.
“It is inappropriate in a democracy and absolutely useless to the nation or to any individual,” he added.
In addition to the person’s personal data, vaccination certificates issued by the Indian Ministry of Health show Modi’s photograph along with two messages in English and local languages.
In August, young health minister Bharati Pravin Pawar told parliament that the photo and quotes were included “in a wider public interest” – to encourage people to follow appropriate Covid behavior even after inoculation.
But Peter M argues that those who have already taken the vaccine are “already convinced of its usefulness” and the messages in the certificate “are nothing more than a sermon to the converts”.
“Mr. Modi is not our prime minister and this is not India’s first vaccination program. But the Covid-19 campaign and vaccine program are being screened as a personal show, a propaganda tool for the Prime Minister”.
Peter M is particularly annoyed since he had to pay for his vaccination in a private hospital because “there was a long line for appointments at government hospitals” that handed out free vaccines.
“I paid 750 rupees [$10; £7] for every shot, so why should Mr. Modi’s photo be on my certificate? ”he asks.
The Kerala High Court has given the federal and state governments two weeks to respond. I contacted two spokespersons for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but they refused to comment on Peter M.
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The premier’s photograph on the vaccine certificate was also criticized by his political rivals. Some opposition-ruled states have even replaced his photo with photos of their prime ministers.
Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused Modi of using vaccines for “personal advertising”. And Mamata Banerjee, the prime minister of the state of West Bengal, he said he should have put his photo on death certificates mashed potato.
“Suppose I’m not your supporter … I don’t like you but I have to bring this. Why? Where is people’s freedom?” he asked at a press conference.
“You made your photo mandatory on Covid certificates. Now put it on death certificates too,” he added.
Photography has also created confusion among Indians traveling abroad – Vice news recently reported that immigration officials, who did not know Modi’s face, had accused some travelers of fraud.
Peter M is concerned that, if left unchecked, Modi will “begin putting his photo on our children’s school and high school certificates.”
His concern is rooted in the fact that Modi’s photo sometimes appears in places where it shouldn’t be. Recently, a government ad featuring the prime minister’s image was removed from official court emails after the objections of the Supreme Court.
The prime minister’s love for being photographed and taking selfies is well known. It has a huge following on social media, and tens of thousands of people across the country always attend its gatherings.
His supporters say there is nothing wrong with showing the prime minister’s photo on vaccine certificates as he is one of the most recognizable faces in the country.
Modi’s bearded face looks down from billboards and street signs, smiles from full-page advertisements in newspapers, and the websites of most ministries carry advertisements with his photo.
Critics say India has never been short of leaders who indulge in self-glorification. In the past, the BJP has criticized the Congress party, led by the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, for naming hundreds of airports, universities, awards and welfare programs after their families.
Mayawati, a Dalit icon and former prime minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, is famous for build statues of herself and has been accused of encouraging a cult of personality.
Jayaram Jayalalitha, the late prime minister of Tamil Nadu, had put his face on cheap food canteens, drugstores and salt packs.
“But Modi takes this self-obsession to another level,” says Modi journalist and biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
“He is a member of the RSS [Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], which preaches that the organization is greater than the individual, but under him the individual has become more important than the organization.
“If you hear him, he doesn’t say our government, it’s always my government or the Modi government. There is a lot of ‘me, me, myself’ in his public statements. In February he even renamed a stadium with himself. . “
Mukhopadhyay says Modi used the pandemic “as a great opportunity to promote his cult.”
“Since when [the] the vaccine is the only protection available against Covid-19, by putting his photo on the certificate, he wants to be seen as the savior of the people, “said Mukhopadhyay.
“He wants to be seen as the human face of divinity so that he can earn the trust and faith of the people which will then translate into vows for him.”
Image guru Dilip Cherian says the prime minister’s photo on the vaccine certificate is “a blurring of the lines between what is appropriate from the party’s point of view and what is normative from the government’s point of view.”
“Certificates are armed to win votes,” he says.
“The emphasis appears to be on electoral gains: having as many vehicles as possible, whether it’s the vaccination certificate or government program documents, to carry the same message.”
“Familiarity of the face” is an important advantage, says Cherian, because today the identity of the party has merged with the individual.
“Putting his photo there is part of a precision strike aimed at individual voters for high brand appeal.”
Peter M says this is where the problem lies with having Mr. Modi’s face on his vaccination certificate.
“He is a politician who represents a party, fights elections and this gives him an undue advantage over his rivals. And this has to stop.”
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