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'Is this even legal?': Why is Narendra Modi in a Reliance Jio ad, ask Twitter users

On the face of it, the ad would seem to violate The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950, social media users say.

On Friday, readers of the national dailies The Times of India and the Hindustan Times woke up to a full-page jacket advertisement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, dressed in a blue jacket, staring at them from under the words “Jio: Digital Life”.

The advertisement for Reliance Jio, the second coming of Reliance Industries in telecom, carried the words “Dedicated to India and 1.2 billion Indians” in bold type, followed by a short message:

“In the journey of time, there come a few life changing moments. Our honourable Prime Minister’s inspiring vision of a Digital India is one such movement. Jio is dedicated to realising our Prime Minister’s Digital India vision for 1.2 billion Indians. Jio Digital Life will give the power of data to each Indian, to fulfill every dream and collectively take India to the global digital leadership…”

The tribute-in-an-ad came a day after Mukesh Ambani, chairperson of Reliance Industries, launched Reliance Jio in Mumbai with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan by his side. There too Ambani, the richest man in India, had voiced a short dedication to Modi.

“Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for Digital India is a life changing moment,” he said. “Jio is a dedication to that Digital India dream of the Prime Minister, his vision for the 1.2 billion people of India.”

Headed by Ambani’s daughter Isha and son Akash, both 24 years old, Reliance Jio’s 4G services are touted to disrupt the telecom industry. It is offering data services at as low as Rs 50 per GB, reportedly the lowest data charge anywhere in the world, free voice calls along with free roaming in India. According to Ambani, customers can show up with the unique biometric-based Aadhaar card at a Jio store and get a SIM card within 15 minutes.

A long time coming, Jio was expected to launch a media blitzkrieg. But an ad with the prime minister’s image? Social media was not amused. In fact, it wondered if the usage of the image was even legal.

According to The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950, "...No person shall, except in such cases and under such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government use... for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession... any name or emblem specified in the Schedule or, any colourable imitation thereof without the previous permission of the Central Government or of such officer of Government as may be authorised in this behalf by the Central Government."

Of course, Reliance may well have received written permission from the government to use Modi's picture, which would make it okay to do. Previous matters in which this Act have come up have also suggested some nuance in interpreting the law, as with Montblanc's use of Mahatma Gandhi to sell pens a few years ago, resulting in a controversy.

The only caveat to the law is: "The name of pictorial representation of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj or the Prime Minister of India, except the pictorial use thereof on calendars where only the names of the manufacturers and printers of the calendars are given and the calendars are dot (sic) used for advertising goods."

It should be noted that the advertisement came on a day when central trade unions have called for a nationwide strike to protest against "anti-labour policies" of the Modi government.

Twitterverse used the opportunity to respond with jokes.

Meanwhile, the front page looks even more incongruous because on Friday night, Modi – who rarely gives one-on-one meetings – is set to appear in an interview given to Network18, a media company that happens to be owned primarily by Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited.

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