Votes for free Corona vaccine? BJP defends its Bihar poll promise

New Delhi: The Opposition has taken the battle against the BJP to its camp. The latest escalation came over the ruling party’s “free coronavirus vaccination for all” promise in Bihar ahead of next week’s election.

However, the ruling party is fending off allegations of an “appalling” attempt to use the vaccine for its political agenda. “As soon as a Covid-19 vaccine is 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 Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said today.

“What about the non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), raising a question that many had flagged on the social media.

Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Chaubey, who is currently in Bihar, was asked the question. “The Corona vaccine is being made across the world. When it is ready, we have prepared an elaborate plan to distribute the vaccine, who will be given preference etc… Every state will be given free Coronavirus vaccine,” the minister said.

Congress MP and former Union minister Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “Tum mujhe vote do main tumhe vaccine doonga (Give me votes, I will give you vaccine)… what appalling cynicism! Will the Election Commission rap her (Nirmala) and her shameless government on the knuckles?”

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah called it blatant populism. “Will BJP be paying for these vaccines from the party treasury? If it’s coming from the government treasury, 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,” the former J&K chief minister wrote.

Soon, a top Bihar BJP leader, Bhupinder Yadav, put out a clarification in response to Shashi Tharoor’s post. “Your attempt to twist Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement reeks of desperation. All parties issue manifestos. Vaccines will be made available to all Indians at nominal costs. States can make it free. In Bihar, we will,” he wrote.

For hours, the only response to the criticism was from Amit Malviya of the BJP’s IT cell, who posted: “BJP’s manifesto promises free Covid vaccine. Like all programmes, the Centre will provide vaccines to states at a nominal rate. It is for the state governments 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.”

The government has so far not answered questions related to vaccine delivery and pricing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chaired several meetings on the government’s preps for storage and distribution of vaccines.