« Back to articlePrint this article

'Why do you need Modi's pics on ration bags?'

February 20, 2024 08:57 IST

'If a poor voter sees Modi's picture on ration bags it is natural he will vote for Modi and the BJP.'

IMAGE: Recipients of free rations in bags carrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi's photograph. Photographs: Kind courtesy Ajay Bose

When Right to Information activist Ajay Bose saw ration bags with pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on them being distributed to the poor on social media, he was intrigued.

Never in the history of Independent India were images of any prime minister printed on ration bags, he realised, and that this was being done at a time when general elections were a few weeks away and the Election Commission could announce the Model Code of Conduct any time.

Bose then decided to file an RTI petition asking the Food Corporation of India how much it cost to print Modi's image on ration bags meant for distribution under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY).

He soon got a reply from Rajasthan, and other states too started sending trickles of information, and he was startled to see the amount.

Bose tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ why he filed his RTI petition.

What made you file an RTI plea on the cost of printing photos of Prime Minister Modi on ration bags?

I filed the RTI plea after I saw on social media the pictures of PM Modi on ration bags carrying food grains meant for poor people under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.

One bag in Rajasthan costs Rs 12.36 to the Government of India.

I put an RTI plea to the Food Corporation of India and they in turn sent my RTI application to different states and I got my first reply from Rajasthan.

And what did that say?

It said that they published a total 1,07,45,168 pictures of PM Modi on rations bags used to distribute rations for poor people. Each bag cost Rs 12.36 and when I calculated the total, the cost came to Rs 13,29,71,454 -- which is huge.

This was only in Rajasthan. What about other states?

IMAGE: RTI activist Ajay Bose.

I got a reply from Nagaland and Tamil Nadu. Other states wrote that they were in the process of distributing the bags and therefore they do not have the final figures. Some states said they have not yet called for tenders for bags.

What were they distributing in these ration bags?

They are distributing 5 kg of free rations that varies from state to state. For example, in the northern states it is mostly wheat and in southern states it is rice. Some states give chickpea and one litre oil, if I am not mistaken.

The scheme is being run under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, so what is wrong in carrying photos of the prime minister?

I filed the RTI plea because I feel it is wrong to use pictures of PM Modi on ration bags. We are very close to the elections and the Model Code of Conduct can come into force any time.

The election has to be a level playing field. And if a poor voter sees PM Modi's picture on ration bags, it is natural he will vote for PM Modi and his party, the BJP.

The Election Commission must take cognisance of this suo motu. They could have just printed the name of the scheme Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which was fine. But why do you need PM Modi's photo on free ration bags?

If PM Modi wants to print his photo, then let the BJP pay for it from its own pocket, not from taxpayer's money.

Since you hail from Rajasthan let me remind you when the Congress was in power in the state there were pictures of Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on the beneficiary items that the poor used to get.

I have not seen that here personally. But even if it is true, photos of Ashok Gehlot were not seen during elections for sure.

Let PM Modi give rations in bags without his photo. I personally feel instead of using PM Modi's photo on ration bags and spending so much money, the government could have given an extra ration item like cereals or tea to the poor.

They would have been happier to get their own bags from home and collect one extra item of ration for free instead of taking one less ration item in a bag carrying PM Modi's photo.

Moreover, the picture carrying PM Modi is made of synthetic material which cannot get spoiled or torn easily so this bag will surely last till the general elections of 2024.

You had taken on the railways over Modi selfie points at railway stations. What happened?

Yes, they stopped that practice after I filed my RTI plea asking how much it cost to put up photos of PM Modi on railway stations (external link) for selfies.

They had planned to install PM Modi's cutouts at universities in different states and even at Indian Army (cantonments) but they did not extend the scheme all over India.

Imagine, one selfie booth of PM Modi was costing Rs 625,000 per station. It should not have cost such a huge amount as contractors benefitted from putting up the selfie booths of PM Modi. And the temporary selfie booth was costing Rs 125,000.

I later got a reply from many universities that they were not placing Modi selfie points on their campus.

IMAGE: Ration bags with Modi's photograph on them kept for distribution.

Are you against the promotion of an individual in a democracy?

Yes, exactly. In my 51 years of my life I have never seen such photos of a PM everywhere before elections. This kind of self-glorification is not good. I don't like this I, me and myself politics.

When we got Covid vaccine certificates, without asking us we got PM Modi's picture on it.

He is ready to take credit for the vaccine, but at the same time, when there were so many deaths due to Covid, nobody thought of putting his picture on those death certificates.

Was putting up photos of PM Modi like this an earlier trend too?

The photos on ration bags have emerged now. This is being done at a time when we are very close to elections. There were no photos of PM Modi earlier and since I saw these photos on social media only now, I filed my RTI plea.

I don't recall seeing the PM's photos on ration bags in October 2023. I saw it now, therefore I filed my RTI plea on January 16 and started getting replies from different states now.

If we are giving 80 crore (800 million) Indians free rations, then (roughly) Rs 800 crore (Rs 8 billion) of taxpayer's money goes straight in these ration bags (with the PM's photos).

If the BJP wants to give out these rations, let them give it from their own funds.