The BJP’s promise of providing free Covid-19 vaccination for the people of Bihar in its election manifesto attracted widespread criticism on Thursday with the opposition parties asking whether non-BJP ruled states will get the free vaccine.
In the manifesto, released by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the party said, “The NDA government in Bihar has set an example in the fight against novel coronavirus. It is our promise that when a vaccine for COVID is available after clearance from ICMR, every Bihar resident will be given free vaccination.”
Reacting sharply, the Opposition said the promise of a vaccine in an election manifesto shows BJP’s “desperation” and asked whether “Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?”
Taking a potshot at the ruling dispensation, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said: “Government of India just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises.”
Calling for strict action by the Election Commission, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a tweet said: “Tum mujhe vote do, mai tumhe vaccine…what appalling cynicism! Will the Election Commission rap her and her shameless government on the knuckles?”
??? ???? ??? ?? ??? ?????? ??????? …. what appalling cynicism! Will the ElectionCommission rap her & her shameless Govt on the knuckles? https://t.co/ri1UlWWmgD
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 22, 2020
Calling it ‘Vaccine electionism’, Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said that the BJP is implying that the citizens of other non-election states will have to pay for the vaccine. The Congress party, on its Twitter handle, asked, “Is the FM suggesting that citizens from other states will have to pay for the vaccine? Is the BJP govt going to make Indian citizens pay to save their lives? Every major vaccination programme from Polio to Smallpox has been free for our citizens, does BJP intend to reverse that?”
Former J&K Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah asked whether the BJP will be paying for the vaccines from its own party treasury.
In a tweet, Abdullah wrote: “Will BJP be paying for these vaccines from the party treasury? If it’s coming from the government treasury then how can Bihar get free vaccines while the rest of the country has to pay? There is so much wrong with this blatant populism that shamefully exploits Covid fears.”
Will @BJP4India be paying for these vaccines from the party treasury? If it’s coming from the government treasury then how can Bihar get free vaccines while the rest of the country has to pay? There is so much wrong with this blatant populism that shamefully exploits COVID fears. https://t.co/ek796weG84
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) October 22, 2020
What about non-BJP ruled states?
Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine? https://t.co/kjid5IC5aH
— AAP (@AamAadmiParty) October 22, 2020
RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha also said, “I am shocked. In a welfare state, promising a vaccine for a pandemic, if it is a part of an election manifesto, it shows the level of deterioration in their thinking.”
‘State government’s decision’
Amidst a deluge of criticism from Opposition leaders, BJP IT head Amit Malviya, in a clarification, said that health is a state subject.
“BJP’s manifesto promises free Covid vaccine. Like all programs, center will provide vaccines to states at a nominal rate. It is for the state governments to decide if they want to give it free or otherwise. Health being a state subject, Bihar BJP has decided to give it free. Simple,” he said in a tweet.
BJP’s manifesto promises free Covid vaccine. Like all programs, center will provide vaccines to states at a nominal rate. It is for the state Govts to decide if they want to give it free or otherwise. Health being a state subject, Bihar BJP has decided to give it free. Simple.
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) October 22, 2020
Issuing a similar clarification, BJP National General Secretary Bhupendar Yadav also said that vaccine will be made available to all at nominal costs.
Responding to Tharoor’s tweet, Yadav said: “Your attempt to twist Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement reeks of desperation. All parties issue manifestos. Vaccines will be made available to all Indians at nominal costs. States can make it free. In Bihar, we will.”
Meanwhile, a complaint has also been filed by activist Saket Gokhale with the Election Commission regarding the poll promise.
“This is not only discriminatory but also a false promise and blatant misuse of Central Govt. powers during elections,” Gokhale tweeted sharing a copy of the complaint.
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