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".
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.
" Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 22, 2020
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.
🇺🇲 All Americans got $1200 as COVID package
🇩🇪 All Germans got 300 Euros per child as COVID package
🇯🇵 All Japanese got 100,000 yen as COVID package
🇮🇳 All Indians will get Free Vaccine as COVID package if they vote for BJP in their state election
MODI IS THE BEST PM EVER
" Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) October 22, 2020
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".
NDA manifesto says free vaccine for Biharis. This is a poll promise BJP & JDU have made.
Note: A Manifesto is a list of promises to be delivered If the govt comes to power then they are politicising health of citizens with #VaccineElectionism.
" Bhupesh Baghel (@bhupeshbaghel) October 22, 2020
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.
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¤¹¤® ¤¯¥ ¤¤¤ - ¤¥¤¤¥¤¤ - ¥¥¤ pic.twitter.com/XcMaGYF70I
" Shivraj Singh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) October 22, 2020
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".
¤¥¤°¥¤¨¤¾ ¤¤¾ ¤¥¤¤¾ ¤¦¥¤¶ ¤¤¾ ¤¹¥, ¤¤¾¤¤ª¤¾ ¤¤¾ ¤¨¤¹¥¤!
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" Rashtriya Janata Dal (@RJDforIndia) October 22, 2020
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.
Can the party which rules the country offer free #COVID19 vaccine to just one state?
Is this legal? Permitted by @ECISVEEP?
" Kanchan Srivastava (@Ms_Aflatoon) October 22, 2020
What's with govt making promises that every person in Bihar will get COVID vaccine? People in other States won't get? What's there to promise the obvious? Koi ahsaan hai kya? Baaki desh wasiyon ko marne ke liye chor dega kya Modi? Khali bihariyon ko milega kyun ke election hai?
" Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) October 22, 2020
If BJP doesn't win in Bihar will they charge Biharis for the Covid vaccine?
" Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) October 22, 2020
How bereft of morality and character do you have to be to promise free vaccination in an election manifesto? If you don't win then people will have to pay for the vaccine? What cruelty is this? What @BJP4India has done is the most immoral thing that a political party can do.
" Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) October 22, 2020
" Arvind Gunasekar (@arvindgunasekar) October 22, 2020
*£ Is that an ethical allocation of a vaccine that will be most in demand? *£ Should we not prioritize health care workers, elderly and the most vulnerable first? @MoHFW_INDIA https://t.co/PQS0DrIOj8
" Rijo M John, PhD (@RijoMJohn) October 22, 2020
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.
BJP's manifesto promises free Covid vaccine. 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.
" Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) October 22, 2020
With inputs from agencies