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BJP's free Covid vaccine promise in Bihar irks Oppn

New Delhi: The BJP's promise of providing free COVID-19 vaccination for the people of Bihar in its election manifesto attracted widespread criticism on Thursday with the Opposition parties asking whether non-BJP ruled states will get the free vaccine.

They have also demanded action by the Election Commission, while alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political gains.

In the manifesto released by Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the party said: "The NDA government in Bihar has set an example in the fight against novel Coronavirus. It is our promise that when a vaccine for COVID is available after clearance from ICMR, every Bihar resident will be given free vaccination."

Reacting sharply, the Opposition said the promise of a vaccine in an election manifesto shows BJP's "desperation" and asked whether "Indians who didn't vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?"

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 Opposition attack forced the BJP to explain that 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.

BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya, in a tweet, said: "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."

Taking a cue from its ally BJP, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami also made a similar announcement on Friday in his state, where elections are due next year.

The Madhya Pradesh government led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has also promised a free-of-cost vaccine to its residents.

The RJD, 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.

The RJD said the vaccine belongs to the country and not the BJP, which is using it for its politics.

SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said the ruling BJP in the country 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.

NC 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.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel accused the BJP of politicising public health by promising free vaccine in Bihar.

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.

TMC 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.

The issue was also raised by Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party. "What about non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn't vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?" the party said in a tweet.

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