BJP's Free Covid Vaccine Promise Not a Violation of Poll Code, Says Election Commission

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The BJP’s promise of free Covid-19 vaccine to the people in Bihar as promised in the election manifesto ahead of assembly polls is not in violation of Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the Election Commission said.

The Election commission’s observation came after RTI activist Saket Gokhale alleged that the announcement of free Covid vaccine promise during election was a gross violation of the government’s power and an attempt to mislead voters. Gokhale had filed a written complaint last week in the matter, a report in The Indian Express said.

While introducing BJP’s manifesto in Patna on October 22, Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted the part of the 11 point 'Sankalp Patra' released by BJP, which promised free Covid-19 vaccination for all Biharis when NDA comes to power. The promise generated a huge controversy with opposition claiming that the BJP was trying to sell vaccine, which was the right of every Indian, for votes. RJD said that this poll promise showed desperation of BJP.

The Election Commission’s response on Wednesday to the complain quotes three provisions from the MCC, that the election manifesto shouldn’t contain anything repugnant to the constitution, it shouldn’t make any promise that vitiate the purity of electoral promise or exert undue influence of the voter and it shouldn’t reflect the rationale behind the promise.

“In view of the above, no violation of any of the provisions of Model Code of Conduct has been observed in the instant matter,” the EC’s reply to Gokhale reportedly states.

The opposition attacked the BJP over the promise. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said, “GOI 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."

The EC had taken a similar stand on a complaint received against the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections last year where the party promised NYAY scheme that guaranteed a minimum income of Rs 6,000 per month, or Rs 72,000 a year, for 25 crore people.

Defending the vaccine promise, the Union Finance Minister claimed that the contentious poll sop was "perfectly in order" because it was a policy decision. “It is a manifesto announcement. A party can announce what it wants to do when it comes to power. That is exactly what is announced. Health is a state subject. It is perfectly in order,” Nirmala Sitharaman told media on Saturday.