Making vaccination an election issue

The recent announcement of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the Assembly election campaign trail in Bihar on Thursday that the BJP would offer free anti-COVID-19 vaccines to everyone in Bihar is apt to be seen as a con by the people of the state.
Singling out a state and steering the vaccine conversation from identifying who needs it on priority in any part of the country to who should get it as a poll promise amounts to fiddling with the management of an unprecedented public health emergency. Within hours of the BJP, ruling both at the Centre and in Patna, releasing its manifesto, the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, which goes to the polls next year, and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced free coronavirus vaccination for poor. This is just the beginning. There will be genuine apprehensions in various state capitals about whether the Centre plans to dilute a national vaccine management plan. If Bihar is to get the Covid vaccine free, will other states also get it free? Has the cost of this been calculated? If the zero-price favour is only for the state going to the polls, then it is clearly an enticement. More, there is also the question of all states having equal status in the eyes of the Centre.
What’s noteworthy is that only the ruling party could have made such a statement and not its opponents. The Election Commission will therefore be called upon to see if this is a violation of the principle of each party being offered a level playing field.
Top labs and top scientists in the world have made contradictory observations on this matter, although some governments, including our own, have chosen the seemingly reassuring way and hinted that we should have the cure in the bag early next year. Here too the basis is purely political, with not a shred of science attaching to it.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly assured that there will be no shortage of funds for the gigantic undertaking of vaccinating the second most populous country after China. On the eve of the festival season, he even warned citizens that the disease was still active and present, and they would be putting their own lives and those of their family members at risk if they were irresponsible about safety measures. Why BJP is choosing to make vaccination an election issue.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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