Covaxin’s missing trial data aside, vaccine hesitancy threatens to slow down the rollout in India. Some members of the medical community have said that Modi, who has been consistent with his messaging about wearing masks and staying at home, could go a long way in calming the nerves of vaccine recipients by taking the jab on camera. “Our Prime Minister is a charismatic leader. We follow his advice in letter and spirit. I believe if he takes the vaccine, the hesitancy will go away among all sections of society,” Dr Rahul Bhargava from Fortis Hospital in Gurugram told Outlook magazine.

This sentiment was also echoed by several politicians, including Dayanidhi Maran, a parliamentarian from Tamil Nadu, who spoke about it in the lower house on Feb. 10.

But there is likely another reason why Modi has chosen to delay his jab.

The optics of a Covid-19 vaccine

In a meeting with all state chief ministers of the country on Jan. 13, three days before the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, Modi reportedly told the attendees that no government functionary would be allowed to cut the vaccine queue. “Prime minister during the video conference has stated that no politician, even by mistake, will not take the vaccine because the first right on the vaccine is for frontline and healthcare workers,” Himanta Biswa Sarma, the health minister for the eastern state of Assam, said during a press interaction.

It is likely that Modi wants to be seen as an egalitarian leader, one who does not use his power or influence for personal gain. This is in line with his campaign promises of “na khaaunga, na khaane dunga” (I won’t take bribes, nor will I let anyone take bribes) during the 2014 general elections. At the time he was signalling the anti-corruption wave in India against the Congress-led government of the day, as well as against political nepotism.

Modi’s own sartorial choices—including expensive eyeglasses and a designer suit—and his large travel bills had become a point of much debate. Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, in 2015, had called the Modi government “suit-boot ki sarkar” (a government of suits and boots). He has often repeated this jibe, most recently during India’s ongoing farmer-led protests.

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