The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on October 22 sparked a major controversy after Opposition leaders and netizens criticised its promise to give "free coronavirus vaccination for all" in its manifesto for election-bound Bihar.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who released the manifesto in Patna, announced free distribution of a coronavirus vaccine in the state.
Opposition leaders took a dig at the BJP and raised questions over the use of vaccines to strengthen political gains. Others raised doubts if other states will receive similar treatment or not.
Lashing out at the BJP, Rashtriya Janata Dal tweeted that the "vaccine belongs to India and not just to the saffron party".
The Congress also questioned whether the government will ask people to pay for the vaccine in other states.
"Every major vaccination programme from Polio to Smallpox has been free for our citizens, does BJP intend to reverse that?" the party tweeted.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor asked the Election Commission to take stringent action, referring to the Modi-led government "shameless". The party's spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill also said that the BJP would be the only political party to treat coronavirus vaccine as an "election lollipop".
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah called it "blatant populism".
"Will BJP be paying for these vaccines from the party treasury," he asked. "If it's coming from the government 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."
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav called the poll promise as "opportunistic politics".
After BJP's controversial promise sparked a row, the party clarified its stance on the issue.
Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Chaubey said that every state will be given free vaccines. "The corona vaccine is being made across the world," he said. "When it is ready, we have prepared an elaborate plan on distributing the vaccine, who will be given preference etc...Every state will be given free coronavirus vaccine."
However, the party's Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya tweeted that the Centre will provide vaccines to the states at "nominal rates" and it would be up to respective state governments whether to give them for free or not.
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