Opposition parties on Thursday slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party for promising free COVID-19 vaccines in its Bihar poll manifesto and demanded action by the Election Commission, while alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political gains.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at the BJP, saying one has to refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when one will have access to the vaccine.
The BJP, however, said health is a state subject and its manifesto is for Bihar, not for the entire country, where it has promised that the state will buy the vaccine for its people.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress, Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party and the National Conference all raised questions on the BJP's poll promise of free vaccine for Bihar, alleging that it is politicising the matter.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted a video of Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman, saying, 'You give me vote, I will give you vaccine...What appalling cynicism! Will the EC rap her and her shameless Government on the knuckles?'
Chhattisgarh Health Minister T S Singh Deo said a free COVID vaccine is a right of every citizen.
"The EC must take suo moto cognisance as the Modi government can't be selective about free access to COVID vaccine depending on electoral results," he added.
There was no word from EC on the issue.
Sitharaman released the manifesto for Bihar assembly polls which promised free vaccine once it has been cleared by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
'The NDA government in Bihar has set an example before the country in the fight against corona. It's our resolve that once the vaccine against the coronavirus has been cleared by the ICMR, we will make it available to the people of Bihar free of cost,' said the manifesto.
The promise figured at the top of the BJP's election document.
The three-phase assembly elections begin from October 28, and the political heat is set to rise in Bihar with rallies by the prime minister and Gandhi on Friday.
The RJD said the vaccine belongs to the country and not the BJP, which is using it for its politics.
'The corona vaccine belongs to the country, not the BJP! The political use of the vaccine shows that they have no alternative but to sell the fear of disease and death.
'Biharis are self-respecting, and will not sell their children's future for a small amount,' the RJD said on its official Twitter handle.
SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said the BJP is saying it will get the corona vaccine free for the people of Bihar.
'Why such a declaration was not made for UP and other states. The people of Uttar Pradesh and the country will give its reply to such opportunistic petty politics of the BJP in the upcoming elections,' he said in a tweet in Hindi.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah asked whether the BJP will pay for the COVID vaccine from its own money.
'If it's coming from the govt 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,' he tweeted.
Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said it is BJP's manifesto for Bihar and not for the entire country.
He said since health is a state subject, it is up to the state to promise whether they would provide the vaccine free to its people.
BJP's Amit Malviya said the Centre will provide the vaccines to states at a nominal rate and it is for the state governments to provide it free to its people.
'BJP's manifesto promises free COVID vaccine. Like all programs, Centre 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,' he said.
BJP general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh claimed that free vaccine promise by the party in its poll manifesto has got huge traction.
'As usual ecosystem gets into overdrive to ridicule the proposal. It's our resolve whenever vaccine is available in whatever quantity it may be , it will be provided free in Bihar,' he said.
Replying to a tweet by Tharoor, BJP's Bhupendra Yadav said, 'Your attempt to twist Smt 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.'
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel accused the BJP of politicising public health by promising free vaccine in Bihar.
'NDA manifesto says free vaccine for Biharis. This is a poll promise BJP and 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 Vaccine Electionism,' he tweeted.
'With this poll promise BJP has implied that the citizens of other non election states will have to pay for the vaccine,' he said.
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said, 'The vaccine is yet to come, but it has already become a part of poll 'jumlas' (rhetoric). Shouldn't the central government's responsibility be equal towards the people of all states.'
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the BJP is mocking the people of Bihar and of the country.
He said the PM has said there will be no vaccine for another one year, then how will the BJP provide it.
"This is a complete contradiction and a fraud being played with the people of Bihar," he alleged.
Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Ray also said that it was 'irresponsible' of the finance minister to promise the vaccine even when it is yet to be approved officially.