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Modi face on condom packs - Effort under AIDS campaign leaves customers unimpressed

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  • Published 25.06.06

Ahmedabad, June 25: Raman Singh put his pictures in Chhattisgarh’s school textbooks, hoping to catch ’em young. Fellow BJP chief minister Narendra Modi wants to catch them slightly older ? and more interested.

Perhaps figuring out that nothing sells like sex, Modi has lent his face to huge crates of condom and contraceptive pills that have suddenly appeared in every ration shop across Gujarat.

The shopkeepers have been asked to open the boxes before every customer, man or woman, of the appropriate age and persuade them to take their pick. Early reports suggest that many customers have found the “gimmick” in bad taste.

The crates, despatched to ration shops this month under an AIDS awareness and family planning scheme called “Kalyan Chhaap”, carry photographs of Modi and his health minister, Ashok Bhatt. Dubbed “condom boxes” by shopkeepers, each contains 1,000 condoms and strips of contraceptives for free distribution.

“We are supposed to keep this box on our counter and open it before our customers, including women, and tell them they can take anything they want,” said a shopkeeper in the chief minister’s Maninagar constituency in Ahmedabad. “But many of my customers, especially women, have taken offence.”

Congress leader and former education minister Hasmukh Patel agrees. “By showing their faces on condom boxes, the chief minister and his health minister have proved they lack a sense of decency; they don’t know how to inform the people.”

Bhatt, however, is unfazed. “There’s nothing wrong in getting our photos printed on the condom boxes,” the health minister said.

“After all, AIDS awareness is our programme like any other government programme. Why shouldn’t we take credit for what we are doing?” he asked.

Bhatt claimed the programme was “getting a good response” in the rural areas.

AIDS activists support the scheme and don’t care much if the boxes carry ministers’ pictures.

“Except for a small section of people, I don’t think anybody will object to free condom distribution at government ration shops,” said Prof Gaurang Jani, who teaches sociology at Gujarat University. “This only indicates Modi’s political will. I have no problem with it.”