The Election Commission has directed the Center to remove photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from COVID-19 vaccination certificates in poll-bound states, according to an Indian Express report.
This comes days after Trinamool Congress registered a complaint alleging it violates the Model Code of Conduct.
The model code came into effect on February 26, the day the Election Commission announced Assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
The Election Commission had first sought a report from the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal asking why Modi’s photo was used for vaccination certificates generated through the Co-WIN platform, according to The Print.
In reply, the state electoral officer told the poll panel that the vaccination drive was a central scheme.
The panel then raised the issue with the health ministry and asked for a response on the “factual position” on the use of the photos. The ministry responded and said the vaccination drive was an ongoing government initiative that began long before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect.
“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 must now update its Co-WIN platform to introduce a filter that masks the image of the prime minister on the certificate, officials told the Indian Express.
Trinamool Congressman Derek O’Brien wrote a letter to the Election Commission, saying Modi “blatantly misusing official machinery” by using his pictures ahead of the Assembly elections. Furthermore, he said that PM Modi is 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 asked all petrol pump dealers and other agencies to remove hoardings with PM Modi’s pictures from the facility premises within 72 hours.
In the past too, the EC has prohibited the use of pictures of the Prime Minister on posters and official websites of government plans during elections.