Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to have a keen eye for photo opportunities that can shape his image – and send strong messages to the Indian public.
In 2014, he swept leaves on a street in New Delhi to launch his Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, sanitation campaign. Five years later, during a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he was filmed walking along a deserted beach collecting plastic water bottles and other trash. During India’s 2019 election campaign, Mr Modi retreated to an isolated cave in the Himalayas to meditate – with a film crew in tow to capture his moving rest. And last August, as coronavirus cases in the country increased, he tweeted photos of himself feeding peacocks at his official residence.
Given this skillful use of visual communication, Mr Modi could have joined with other world leaders in rolling up his sleeve for a Covid-19 coup, as India launched its ambitious vaccination campaign this month.
World leaders – such as Joe Biden, then President-elect of the United States, and Kamala Harris as Vice President-elect, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo – have all been publicly vaccinated. Some have even done it live on television, to boost the confidence of their nations in accelerated vaccinations.
Tweeting a photo of himself receiving a blow, Mr Netanyahu said he and his health minister had asked to be vaccinated first “to serve as a example to you, and encourage you to be vaccinated“. Even Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of the UK, as well as Pope Francis, have confirmed receiving their beatings, albeit without photos. His Holiness called vaccination an “ethical obligation”.
But Mr Modi was not vaccinated when the vaccine launched in India last week, even as he hailed the rollout of two ‘India-made vaccines’ as’ shining proof of India’s strength. , the scientific competence of India and the talent of India ”.
His apparent reluctance was noticed and fueled speculation as to his motives – adding to a wider controversial on the road to inoculate 300m of Indians by August.
India’s inoculation campaign uses two vaccines: Covishield, a locally manufactured dose of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine; and Covaxin, locally developed by Bharat Biotech, a manufacturer of vaccines for developing countries. However, top Indian scientists have questioned New Delhi’s decision to use Covaxin – albeit in a “clinical trial mode” – without any efficacy data to prove that it slows down serious disease. Many doctors and nurses were reluctant to receive Covaxin, resulting in lower than expected vaccine uptake.
To counter this reluctance, some have appealed to Mr. Modi – who is closely revered religious fervor by millions of Indians – to lead by example, take a hit from Covaxin and persuade others to follow. Some are ironic that the Prime Minister may have already been secretly inoculated – perhaps with a foreign vaccine, whose effectiveness has been confirmed. Meanwhile, a new survey suggests Delhi is close to “collective immunity”, anyway.
But supporters of Mr Modi say he has a noble reason to wait to be vaccinated against a virus that has infected at least eight members of his cabinet. They say this is a repudiation of the VIP culture rooted in India, through which politicians and well-connected individuals claim public benefits first.
India now only vaccinates public health workers and other front-line personnel, such as the police. Vulnerable citizens – the elderly and those suffering from other ailments – will be vaccinated in a second phase which is still weeks or even months away.
Instead of using his power to skip the queue, officials say the 70-year-old leader is determined to wait his turn – an act of sacrifice that sends a clear message to others about respecting the process and plays to his image of devotedness. official, avoiding personal advantages.
The postponement of the vaccination also signals Mr Modi’s lack of fear of the virus. In a country of 1.4 billion people, where vaccine deployment could take years, this projection of confidence and courage – which bolsters his reputation as an almost messianic leader – may be the most critical message of all.