While releasing the BJP poll manifesto for Bihar on Thursday, Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman announced that the party, if elected to power, would provide free vaccination to every single person in the state. She said, “as soon as the 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 election manifesto.”
While RJD, Congress, Shiv Sena, Left parties and Akali Dal criticized the BJP for what they called “politicizing the pandemic”, the BJP said that since health is a state subject, the party has promised to give the free vaccine and there was nothing wrong about it.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a jibe tweeting that “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.”
Later in the night, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments announced they would give free vaccines to all in their states. Madhya Pradesh’s government promised to give free Covid vaccines to those below the poverty level.
Though the BJP manifesto also promised employment to 19 lakh people, appointments to three lakh new teachers, making Bihar an IT hub, and making Bihar the No. 1 state in fisheries production, the main grouse of the opposition parties was over the free Covid vaccine promise.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury described it as “a brazen violation of election code of conduct”, while Chhattisgarh’s Congress Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said, BJP was playing politics with the health of the people.
In her press conference, Nirmala Sitharaman said that India was fast approaching completion of Covid vaccine trials, and once scientists give clearance to mass production of the vaccine, it would be provided to every person in Bihar free of cost.
The Centre has already indicated that the Covid vaccine would be available early next year, as the stage three trial data for Astra Zeneca candidate vaccine are expected to be ready for scrutiny by end of November or early December.
Thus, the first dose of the Covid vaccine is expected before year-end, but by that time elections in Bihar will be over. The Centre has set aside Rs 50,000 crore ($37 billion) during this fiscal year to provide Covid vaccines to Indian citizens. Each dose may cost $6 to $7 and the cost will be tremendous for a nation of more than 135 billion people.
I have spoken to several ministers, leaders and scientists on this issue, and their estimate is the first doses may be available to the people not before February. By the first week of July, nearly 25 crore doses will be prepared in India.
The scientists are busy carrying out critical checks of all trial data relating to the vaccine, while the government is mapping out the distribution strategy.
As far as politicians are concerned, all of them know the ground reality about vaccine development, but they are taking a stance as if the vaccines are ready and the government is going to distribute them to gain votes.
Every Indian, or rather every person in the world, is waiting for the Covid vaccine. Nirmala Sitharaman has clearly said that three vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of trial.
Those in the opposition also know this, but they are projecting facts to suit their political advantage.
Every politician wants that the vaccine is made available to all free of cost. This was evident from the decisions taken by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments on Thursday night.
There is nothing wrong if the BJP promises free vaccine to all in Bihar.
The JD(U) has also made a similar promise. It would be better if politicians stop taking a moral high ground, and instead ensure that the crowds in their rallies stick to Covid norms, wear masks and maintain social distancing.
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