Covid-19 vaccination is not PM Modi’s personal gift

Covid-19 vaccination is not PM Narendra Modi’s personal gift

Commandeering vaccine programme inappropriate

Representative image. Credit: PTI file photo

The countrywide vaccination drive against Covid-19 risks turning into a political programme if it gets associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a politician or a person at every stage and in every aspect. A record 23.1 million vaccinations were done on September 17, Modi’s birthday and the programme was turned into a political vaccine mela, touted as a ‘birthday gift’ to the nation. But vaccination is a national programme that uses public resources in the form of government personnel, money and facilities owned by the State, and should not be commandeered and tethered to a party or a person. The country had a 30-day average of 7 million doses before the birthday bash, and it suddenly tripled on that day, with BJP-ruled states multiplying the vaccinations by up to 15 times.

The sudden surge shows that there was a political plan behind it. The average number of doses in the runaway states came down in the few days before the birthday and in the days after the event, raising questions whether vaccines were held back for that day. That amounts to making a deliberate attempt to manipulate the programme by organising it for the benefit of the Prime Minister’s and BJP’s image. Linking a national programme with a day in the ruling party’s political calendar amounts to appropriation of that programme and imposition of the day on the people, demanding their involvement in it. Already the vaccination certificates carry Modi’s photograph and billboards on streets and advertisements, again with his photograph, make various claims, giving credit for the vaccination programme personally to him and even suggesting that the vaccines are a gift to the people from him.

Such identification of a national programme with the Prime Minister at a personal level is improper in a democracy. What was witnessed on September 17 was vaccine populism of an unethical kind, and a sign of moral corruption. It is the norm in the country to name government programmes after former prime ministers and other leaders and eminent persons. But implementation of programmes of such scale under the personal banner of a serving Prime Minister has not often happened, except perhaps during the Emergency. The identification of the national, the political and the personal establishes wrong equations between them and will distort democratic politics, weaken the nation and make the personal a toxic variable in public life. When vaccinations are part of public policy, they should not be politicised to promote a party and personalised to privilege the Prime Minister. It is wrong to use the vaccination programme to give a booster shot to the Prime Minister's image.