The BJP’s promise to provide free Covid-19 vaccine to the people of Bihar, made in its election manifesto Thursday, triggered a political row with the RJD, Congress and other Opposition parties slamming the party, accusing it of politicising the pandemic and playing on the fears of the people.
Reacting sharply to the BJP promise, the RJD said, “Corona vaccine belongs to the country. It does not belong to the BJP. The political use of the vaccine shows that they have no option but to sell the fear of the disease and death. The people of Bihar have self-respect, they do not sell their children’s future for a few pennies,” the RJD posted on its Twitter handle.
Its senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha said the BJP’s decision to make such a promise in its election manifesto was an indication of the deterioration in its thinking. He criticised the announcement, saying it amounts to “zindagi bachane ke liye bhi chunavi saudebaazi (seeking votes even to save lives)”.
Addressing a press conference in Patna, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the pandemic cannot be a topic for the BJP to “lie” and “make fun” of the people of Bihar.
“When lakhs of migrants from Bihar were walking back to the state without even food and water… The same Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi had said they will not let them enter the state. And today, once again, they are making fun of the people of Bihar and also the people of the country… What was the situation in Bihar during the lockdown? Over 1000 people have died. Is Nitish Babu bothered about it? Is Sushil Modi bothered about it? And those central ministers who are now coming to Bihar, did they pay any attention earlier… BJP… you can lie… even Nitish Babu had called you badka jhoota party … but don’t make fun of the people of Bihar and the people of the country… We take strong exception to it,” he said.
“GOI just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when you will get it, along with a hoard of false promises,” former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said the BJP’s promise meant that people of other states will have to pay for the vaccine.
“NDA manifesto says free vaccine for Biharis. This is a poll promise BJP & JDU have made… they are politicising the health of citizens with vaccine electionism. With this poll promise, the BJP has implied that the citizens of other non-election states will have to pay for the vaccine,” he said.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury called it a “brazen violation” of the Model Code of Conduct by the Finance Minister who, he said, was seeking to influence Bihar’s electorate with the promise of free Covid vaccination. He said it was the central government’s responsibility to provide the vaccine to all Indians. He said the Election Commission of India was refusing to take suo motu cognizance of the BJP announcement.
Targeting the BJP and the Prime Minister, CPI general secretary D Raja said, “Vaccine-for-vote politics is dirty, dubious and dishonest politics. The people of Bihar will give a befitting reply. It shows that the BJP is desperate and is jittery about the outcome of the polls. And what about people in other states? And if people of Bihar vote against the BJP, will they not give vaccines to people of Bihar.”
Similar views were expressed by former J&K Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. “Will the 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,” he tweeted.
The AAP too questioned the BJP announcement: “What about non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?”.
Sources in the Election Commission, however, said the BJP’s promise of free Covid-19 vaccine for the people of Bihar does not violate the Model Code of Conduct.
Asked whether the promise could be construed as undue influence as mentioned in the Commission’s guidelines on a poll manifesto, sources pointed to Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act that states “declaration of public policy or a promise of public action” cannot be seen as undue influence.
The EC is learned to have taken this stand on a complaint received during the Lok Sabha elections last year against the Congress’s NYAY scheme that guaranteed minimum income of Rs 6,000 per month, or Rs 72,000 a year, for 25 crore people.
The EC guidelines on manifesto state that political parties should avoid making promises that vitiate the purity of the electoral process or exert undue influence on the voter to exercise their franchise.