The Election Commission has directed the Centre to remove pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from coronavirus vaccination certificates in poll-bound states, days after the Trinamool Congress registered a complaint saying it violates the Model Code of Conduct, The Indian Express reported on Saturday.
The model code came into force on February 26, the day the Election Commission announced Assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
The Election Commission had first asked the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal for a report on why Modi’s photo was being used on vaccination certificates generated through the Co-WIN platform, according to The Print. The state electoral officer responded, informing the poll panel that the vaccination drive was a central scheme.
The panel then took up the matter with the health ministry, and sought its response on the “factual position” on the use of the photographs. In its reply, the ministry said the vaccination drive was an ongoing government initiative that had started much before the Model Code of Conduct came into force.
“The health ministry replied to us saying that the vaccination scheme was rolled out before elections, and therefore the photo of the PM is digitally built into the certificates,” an unidentified EC official told The Print. “The ECI subsequently drew the ministry’s attention to the Model Code of Conduct guidelines, and has asked them to immediately ensure that the photos are removed from the system at least in poll-bound states.”
To comply with the poll panel’s direction, the health ministry will now have to update its Co-WIN platform to introduce a filter that would mask the prime minister’s picture on the certificate, officials told The Indian Express.
In his letter to the Election Commission, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said that by using his photographs, Modi was “blatantly misusing official machinery” ahead of the Assembly polls, and taking away credit from healthcare workers.
He added that the prime minister was “debarred from publicising his name” through the Co-WIN vaccination platform, and that this “this breach of the Model Code of Conduct is glaring and must be stopped with immediate effect”.
On March 5, the Election Commission had directed all petrol pump dealers and other agencies to remove hoardings advertising the Centre’s schemes that has Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photographs, from the premises of the facilities within 72 hours.
The commission has in the past, too, forbidden the use of the prime minister’s photos on posters and official websites of government schemes during elections. During the 2017 elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh, the Election Commission had asked the Cabinet Secretary to remove images of Modi from the website of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana scheme.