The Election Commission of India has asked the Union health ministry and the chief electoral officer of West Bengal to respond to the Trinamool Congress’ complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo on digital certificates to Covid-19 vaccine recipients, The Indian Express reported on Friday.

“We want to ascertain the facts first,” an unidentified official told the newspaper. “For instance, whether these certificates are indeed being distributed on the instructions of the health ministry. As a matter of routine, we always seek a response from all the involved parties in such complaints.” The West Bengal chief electoral officer has been asked to submit a report on the matter within 24 hours, according to ThePrint.

Earlier this week, the TMC had petitioned the Election Commission to remove Modi’s photo from the certificates, alleging that it was a “blatant misuse of official machinery” and violated the Model Code of Conduct. “By placing his photograph, name and message on the provisional certificates issued by the Ministry of Health and Family welfare, he is not only exploiting his post and powers but also stealing commendable credit from the producers of Covid vaccines,” TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien wrote in his letter to the ECI. “He is blatantly appropriating the dues of a vast army of selfless doctors, nurses and health service workers.”

On Wednesday, TMC members and state ministers met the West Bengal chief electoral officer to discuss the matter. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be the star campaigner of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] in this Assembly elections,” state minister Firhad Hakim said after meeting the election officials in Kolkata, according to ThePrint. “As a politician, he is seeking support for his party during rallies. In this situation, using his photo in vaccination certificates is akin to influencing voters and violates the Model Code of Conduct.”

The Election Commission had announced the polling dates for West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry on February 26 and the Model Code of Conduct came into force immediately. The state will vote in eight phases from March 27 to April 29 and the results will be announced on May 2.

BJP defends move

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh justified the decision to use Modi’s photo on Covid vaccine certificates. “If a government project starts before the declaration of an election, it may continue in the same form,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “At petrol pumps, hoardings are advertising several welfare projects of the Centre. These are put up on private land.”

Incidentally, the Election Commission on Wednesday directed all petrol pumps in the poll-bound states to remove the prime minister’s photographs within 72 hours. An official from the West Bengal Chief Electoral Office said that the use of the prime minister’s photograph in hoardings violates the Model Code of Conduct.

BJP’s national spokesperson RP Singh argued that the photos were being used in Modi’s capacity of being the prime minister. “He is the PM of the country, so it is in that capacity his photo is there,” he told ThePrint. “The way he handled the coronavirus pandemic, the way India became a leading example for the rest of the world – whether it is in distribution of vaccine, PPE kits or other medicines – we should be proud of the work he has done.”