Opposition leaders, activists slam BJP over promise of 'free vaccine' in Bihar, say party 'deriding people'

FP Staff
·6-min read

The BJP's announcement of providing free COVID-19 vaccines if the party comes to power in Bihar was met with incredulousness, and Opposition leaders, journalists, and activists questioned the legality and morality of the poll promise.

The BJP's manifesto for the upcoming Bihar Assembly election said: "The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government in Bihar has set an example in the fight against coronavirus pandemic. It is our resolve that as soon as the vaccine is available after it passes through the provisions of ICMR, every citizen of Bihar will be provided the vaccine free of cost."

Critics of the saffron party's move also noted that the unveiling of the manifesto was presided over by Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and asked whether or not the Central Government would also support non-BJP states in providing COVID-19 vaccine for free.

Reacting to the announcement, the Congress slammed the BJP, saying that the party was "deriding the people of Bihar". Party leader Rahul Gandhi accused it of announcing "false promises".

Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said, "In migrant workers crisis, Bihar CM & Deputy CM said they won't let Biharis enter. PM said vaccine can't possibly be made before a year. 1000 Biharis died due to Covid. Do central ministers care? They're deriding people of Bihar."

Other Congress leaders also slammed the move.

Bhupesh Baghel, who leads the Congress government in Chhattisgarh, said the BJP and its NDA ally JD(U) were indulging in "vaccine electionism", and added that "with this poll promise BJP has implied that the citizens of other non-election states will have to pay for the vaccine".

However, amid the uniform criticism for the BJP's action of "politicising" the COVID-19 pandemic, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also jumped on the "free vaccine" bandwagon.

Palaniswami, who was in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu to review anti-COVID-19 measures and development projects, told that reporters that the vaccination "shall cover all sections of the society".

He added: "I would like to announce that as soon as the vaccine is developed (and made available to states) all people in Tamil Nadu will be immunised and the government shall bear the cost."

Chouhan also said that the "poor section" of the country was worrying about whether they will be able to afford the COVID-19 vaccine and added that "every poor person" in Madhya Pradesh will be given free vaccine.

Back in Bihar, the main Opposition party RJD, led by Tejashwi Yadav, said that the COVID-19 vaccine "belongs to the country, not the BJP".

In civilian circles, journalists and political commentators raised questions over the ethics of such an announcement.

Journalist Faye D'souza tweeted a list of questions asking: "1. Will other states also get free vaccine? 2. Will Bihar get free vaccine first? 3. If BJP loses in Bihar, will the state still get the free vaccine? 4. Who is funding the distribution of free vaccine? States or Union? 5. What is govt's vaccine distribution plan?"

Others sought to draw the Election Commission into the debate on whether the BJP could be allowed to make such an announcement when preparations for the polls were already underway.

Meanwhile, the BJP defended its decision and claimed that the announcement of free vaccine shouldn't be regarded as a poll promise. Hindustan Times quoted the party's national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav as saying that "health is an important aspect of public policy and should be addressed by all parties in a reasonable manner".

BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya said that it was "up to the states" to decide whether to give the vaccine for free, once developed.

With inputs from agencies

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