In a statement, Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly Harsh Vardhan said, “Government of India organised a mega event at Talkatora Stadium on Tuesday to celebrate India attaining “polio free” status. But it failed to recall the man who began it all — Dr Harsh Vardhan.”
Vardhan claimed that on Gandhi Jayanti in 1994, he as the health minister of Delhi had organised an immunisation drive for nearly 1.2 million children in the capital on a single day and started the Pulse Polio movement in the country.
“The next year, thanks to the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma and A R Antulay, the then Union Health Minister, we successfully roped in all state governments to organise Pulse Polio drives,” Harsh Vardhan said.
Though aggrieved at the Centre for ignoring his contribution to rid the country of polio, Vardhan said, “I don’t want to take personal credit for Pulse Polio, because I believe that visualising it was the easiest part. A programme of such a gigantic dimension — in an age before mobile telephony and internet — would hardly have been possible without the tireless effort of lakhs of doctors, paramedics, government officials, volunteers and other workers.”
“Today, I am saddened by the partisan attitude of the Manmohan Singh government. It did not even invite me to the event. The government insulted not just me, but also the bipartisan spirit which made polio eradication possible. People of all political backgrounds joined hands to make India polio-free and this government has reduced it to a party event,” he said.
However, Vardhan did point out that he did not require the Singh government’s acknowledgement for his role in Pulse Polio.
“I have been given awards by the World Health Organization, the Rotary Foundation, Lions International, Indian Medical Association and dozens of other national and international oganisations. I was twice given Rotary International’s Paul Harris Fellowship and the ‘Polio Eradication Champion Award’ which had earlier been given to former US President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister John Major and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Apart from these, I was bestowed scores of other international and national awards. Even former Prime Minister I K Gujral had rated me as one of the best health ministers of India and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called me ‘Swasthya Vardhan’,” he said.