Several people questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) promise to give 'free COVID-19 vaccines' in Bihar as part of its election manifesto for the upcoming Assembly polls in the state. "As soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is available for mass production, every person in Bihar will get free vaccination. This is the first promise of our election manifesto," Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters at the launch of the party's manifesto for the elections. She also said that several vaccines were being developed in the country and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would finalise the ones fit for mass production.
Questioning the move, many asked if there was any relation between providing the COVID-19 vaccine, which is the legal responsibility of the government, and upcoming elections in one state of the country.
Former diplomat KC Singh said, "Does it mean that it will be free only in BJP ruled or poll-bound states? Couldnâ€™t provide free trains in time for migrant workers returning home in panic, but now they are VVIPs."
"Wow. From vaccine diplomacy to vaccine nationalism to vaccine politics. COVID-19 may not discriminate in its targets and victims, but for Nirmala Sitharaman to use a much awaited treatment/cure for it as a political carrot for BJP campaign in upcoming Bihar election is plain unethical," journalist Maya Mirchandani tweeted.
The official handle of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also hit out at the Union Minister's statement, tweeting, "What about non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn't vote BJP will not get a free COVID-19 vaccine?"
Wow. From #vaccine diplomacy to vaccine nationalism to vaccine politics. #COVID19 may not discriminate in its targets & victims, but for @nsitharaman to use a much awaited treatment/ cure for it as a political carrot for BJP campaign in upcoming #BiharElection is plain unethical. https://t.co/nJDkzAi8Frâ€” Maya Mirchandani (@maya206) October 22, 2020
What about non-BJP ruled states?â€” AAP (@AamAadmiParty) October 22, 2020
Indians who didn't vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine? https://t.co/kjid5IC5aH
Will @BJP4India be paying for these vaccines from the party treasury? If itâ€™s coming from the government treasury then how can Bihar get free vaccines while the rest of the country has to pay? There is so much wrong with this blatant populism that shamefully exploits COVID fears. https://t.co/ek796weG84â€” Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) October 22, 2020
It is the governmentâ€™s job and responsibility to ensure a free/ cheap COVID vaccine reaches all Indians. It is not something you give away for votes @BJP4India . So those of us who have no elections in the near future, will wait for years to get vaccinated? Amazingâ€” Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) October 22, 2020
Bringing politics into vaccination programs/planning is unambiguously a bad idea. https://t.co/IhTjGVifPkâ€” Gautam Menon (@MenonBioPhysics) October 22, 2020
Meanwhile. the BJP have an explanation that since health is a state subject, the party was promising to give the vaccine for free in the state.
BJPâ€™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.â€” Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) October 22, 2020
Gratifying that we have to hear from the BJP IT cell chief that the Centre will provide vaccines to states at nominal rates, given that the Centre itself has not yet made clear the specifics of vaccine distribution. https://t.co/1Ki6h3LZcIâ€” Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) October 22, 2020
Campaigning is underway in full force in the state ahead of the voting which will be done in three phases, followed by counting of votes on November 10. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are both expected to begin touring the state and campaigning for their parties from October 23. The BJP is contesting in an alliance with incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and is campaigning on a plank of development and providing welfare schemes in the fields of agriculture, education and health.
Meanwhile, the Congress on Wednesday released its manifesto for the Bihar Assembly polls, promising 10 lakh government jobs, farm loan waiver and a monthly unemployment allowance of Rs 1,500 if voted to power. It also assured the farmers of 50% rebate in electricity bills and repeal of the three farm laws brought by the Union government.
The Congress is contesting 70 out of the 243 assembly seats in alliance with the RJD, and three Left parties. The RJD will contest 144 seats, CPI(ML) will contest 19, while the CPI will contest six and CPI(M) will contest four.
Here is what Nirmala Sitharaman said:
As soon as #COVID19 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: Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the launch of BJP Manifesto for #BiharPolls pic.twitter.com/x4VjVmkA3Qâ€” ANI (@ANI) October 22, 2020
With IANS and PTI inputs