Creating Hesitancy, Shifting Demands: How the Opposition Played Mind Games And Vaccine Politics With India

·8-min read

India launched the world's largest vaccine drive on January 16. But even before that, Opposition parties led by Congress, began efforts to spread vaccine hesitancy, and confuse and mislead the public on the vaccination process.

Be it discrediting vaccines, spreading rumours to fuel vaccine hesitancy, frequently changing position on the vaccine distribution process, deliberately asking for the vaccine to be 'opened up for all' despite knowing the government was following a scientific order of priority, opposition party leaders have done everything to harm India's vaccination drive.

Demands for Decentralisation, Only to Take a U-Turn

Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and AAP head Arvind Kejriwal, had asked for the decentralisation of the vaccination process.

When the vaccination drive was decentralised, all of them failed to do anything despite getting the power to do so, and thus turned around and asked for centralisation.

Rahul Gandhi – In a letter to Prime Minister Modi written on the 9th of April, Rahul Gandhi asked for state governments to be given a greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution. However, a month later, he reversed his position in his tweet.

Anand Sharma – Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma led the Opposition parties in asking states to be allowed to have contracts to procure vaccines by themselves. Sharma said that state governments must immediately be allowed to enter into contracts for the procurement of vaccines. "We are a federal country…health is a state issue. The epidemic is separate. But when it comes to healthcare, the Centre cannot control…the Centre is not constitutionally mandated to," he had said.

But when this decentralisation was done, his party president, Mrs. Gandhi, after asking for greater power for states in vaccination, performed an about-turn when states were actually given power, calling it 'Centre's abdication’.

Despite pious lectures in a January 2021 CWC resolution about vaccine wastage, most of the bad news around vaccine wastage came from the Congress-rules states of Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.

Mamata Banerjee – Mamata Banerjee wrote to PM Modi on 24th February asking for the purchase of vaccines directly with state funds. However, she reversed her position in May, asking the Centre to directly procure the vaccine for them and other states.

Arvind Kejriwal – In March, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal demanded decentralisation of the vaccination process, wanting greater control on who to vaccinate. In May, he did a U-turn, demanding for the Centre to step in again.

Ask Where Vaccines Are, Then Waste Them. Ask Govt to Stop Exports, Then Ask Why Exports Were Stopped

The Congress on one hand put up posters asking why vaccines were sent abroad. On the other hand, the same Congress' state governments ended up wasting huge amounts of vaccines, in a hypocritical incident.

In another sign of the Congress party deliberately misleading the public, Shashi Tharoor condemned the decision of the Indian government to ban vaccine exports. The leader had earlier criticised the Vaccine Maitri mission.

Shashi Tharoor and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had also asked the government to make vaccines available in the open market at a higher price.

The same people later accuse the government of differential pricing of vaccines and demand for free vaccines for all.

Announce Free Vaccines, Later Ask PM Modi to Fulfil Their Empty Promise

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan announced with much fanfare that everyone eligible in the state would get free vaccines. Later, he wrote PM Modi demanding free vaccines for all to be paid for by the central government while he attempting to claim credit for it.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren took a leaf out of Kerala CM's book and did the same. After announcing free vaccines, his government sought the PM's help for providing them.

Demands To Open Up Vaccine Drive For All Adults

These leaders, despite knowing the picture of supplies as well as the government's scientific rationale behind prioritisation of beneficiaries, raised a political chorus for vaccines to be opened up for all, only to complain about shortages at a later stage.

Rahul Gandhi sought vaccination for all on the 7th of April. After demanding this, he accused the government on the 24th of 'vaccine shortage' in the country.

In a case of the cart before the horse, Sonia Gandhi said there was a shortage of vaccines. However, Mrs. Gandhi who acknowledged there was a shortage, also insisted that the Centre must lower COVID-19 vaccine age eligibility to 25.

Priyanka Gandhi – On April 12, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra urged people to raise their voices for the “Speak up for vaccine for all” initiative. Later, she started raising questions on the shortage of vaccines.

Mamata Banerjee – Mamata Banerjee asked for vaccination for all before the West Bengal assembly polls knowing full well the supply situation. This became apparent from her subsequent about-turn, where called the Centre's expansion of the vaccination drive 'hollow'.

Captain Amarinder Singh – On April 8, Captain Amarinder Singh urged the Union government to relax the age criteria for vaccinating people under the age of 45. Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Punjab government was warned about its slow vaccination pace. So, a government that couldn't even use existing vaccines quickly and vaccinate the existing cohort properly, was asking for the opening up of new cohorts.

Ashok Gehlot – Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot appealed to the Central government to allow the vaccination for all by removing the age bar on the 5th of April. On the 26th of April, Mr. Gehlot complained to the Union Health Minister over the non-availability of vaccines.

Uddhav Thackeray – On April 5, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to allow the vaccination of all above the age of 25 years in the State.

Just a few days before it, the Centre had pulled him up for a slow pace of vaccination.

Later, in May, he and his ministers kept proclaiming that they would import vaccines. Yet, there has been no movement on it. Instead, because they could not procure vaccines, Maharashtra had to stop vaccination of 18-44 aged people, the same people Uddhav Thackeray was asking vaccination to be extended for.

Arvind Kejriwal – Arvind Kejriwal said that since the production of vaccines in the country had significantly increased and inoculation should be opened to all on the 18th of March. Two months later he stopped the vaccine drive for 18-44 years and asked Centre to supply vaccines.

Bhupesh Baghel – On April 8, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel asked PM Modi to allow all people above 18 years of age to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He later expressed apprehension of likely chaos at COVID-19 vaccination sites due to the unavailability of vaccines for the 18-44 age bracket people who have registered online.

P Chidambaram – Former Finance Minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram wanted universal vaccination but then said there was a shortage of vaccines. Knowing the supply situation, why did he ask for walk-in vaccinations for all?

Akhilesh Yadav – Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, after calling vaccines ‘BJP vaccines’, asked the government to inform the people when the country will get the vaccine.

Soon, he also started asking when the vaccines would be available free of cost, only to say that there was a shortage of vaccines.

Creating Vaccine Hesitancy

Many of the same leaders who are demanding vaccines for all were the ones who were at forefront of spreading doubts and creating vaccine hesitancy among people of India before the roll-out of the vaccines.

The most absurd claim came from Samajwadi Party head, Akhilesh Yadav, who declared that he would not take the shot of "BJP's vaccine". His party members echoed their leader's stance in even more bizarre ways.

Chhattisgarh's health minister TS Singh Deo repeatedly engaged in fear-mongering, not only seeking to discredit Indian-made vaccines but also stopping the use of COVAXIN in the vaccination process in Chhattisgarh with continual questioning of the vaccine's efficacy.

But he later got inoculated with COVAXIN himself after spreading doubts in mind of people about its efficiency.

Captain Amarinder Singh's Congress government in Punjab also refused to use COVAXIN and did not change their stance even when efficacy data came out.

The supposed-rationalist Communist government in Kerala also declared that they preferred Covishield over Covaxin.

Jharkhand's health minister Banna Gupta, after India announced its vaccination drive, blatantly spread vaccine hesitancy by saying people of this country should not be made lab rats.

As early as December, 2020, Congress leaders were raising doubts about India's vaccine programme despite due process being followed. The list includes leaders like Anand Sharma, Manish Tiwari, Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh.

Congress spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, held a press conference to raise doubts on efficacy and side effects on COVID Vaccines and asked "Why isn't the Prime Minister, his health minister, his central ministers and his CMs getting the vaccines themselves first?"

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