The BJP's manifesto promises to provide free COVID-19 vaccination for all the people in Bihar once a vaccine is approved has provoked sharp reaction, with opposition political parties and their leaders calling out "appalling cynicism", "blatant populism", and questioning what will happen in non-BJP-ruled states.
Ahead of the three-phased Bihar Assembly elections, BJP leader and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday, 22 October, stated that "as soon as the coronavirus vaccine will be available for production at a mass scale, every person in Bihar will get free vaccination."
"This is the first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto," she was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
"The Government of India 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," Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted soon after the announcement, taking a dig at the BJP.
‘Tum Mujhe Vote Do, Main Tumhe Vaccine’
Gandhi’s party colleague Shashi Tharoor called Sitharaman's announcement an "appalling cynicism", as he questioned whether the Election Commission would rap her and the government on the knuckles.
Meanwhile, National Conference Leader Omar Abdullah tweeted: "There is so much wrong with this blatant populism that shamefully exploits COVID fears."
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party questioned whether Indians, who did not vote for the BJP, would get free a COVID-19 vaccine, while Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav asked why such an announcement was not made for Uttar Pradesh and other states.
"The people of Uttar Pradesh and this country will give an answer to the BJP for such opportunistic, narrow politics in the upcoming elections," Yadav tweeted in Hindi.
What Is the BJP Saying?
Defending its manifesto promise, BJP's IT in-charge Amit Malviya tweeted: "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. [sic]"
Speaking to ANI, BJP leader in-charge for Bihar, Bhupender Yadav, questioned why the Opposition was upset if his party was taking up a public health issue.
"It's a Bihar elections manifesto. Centre makes vaccines available at a minimum price, we promised our government in Bihar will make it free of cost. Political parties should be sensitive when it comes to public health. We'll fulfill our promise. Every political party goes into the election with a manifesto. Someone talks about employment, someone talks about farm loan waiver, someone talks about pucca houses. Why is the Opposition upset if we are going with a public health issue?"
Bihar will go to polls on 28 October, 3 and 7 November. Counting of votes will take place on 10 November.
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