Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Thursday announced that the coronavirus vaccine would be distributed free of charge in the state once it is ready, NDTV reported. The announcement came hours after the Bharatiya Janata Party announced in its manifesto for Bihar Assembly elections that it would provide free coronavirus vaccination in the state.
“Once Covid-19 vaccine is ready, it will be provided to all people of the state free of cost,” Palaniswami, whose party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, said. Tamil Nadu is due for an election next year.
A similar promise was made later in the day by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. “The process of making a vaccine is going on fast in India,” Chouhan tweeted. “As soon as a vaccine is ready, every resident of Madhya Pradesh will get it free of cost.”
BJP’s promise for a free Covid-19 vaccination was met with criticism from Opposition leaders, journalists and social media users. Opposition leaders took exception to the promise and raised questions over the use of vaccines to further political agenda. Others raised doubts if states that are not poll-bound will receive the same treatment.
Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s biggest opponent in the Bihar Assembly elections, tweeted that the vaccine belongs to India and not just to the saffron party. The Congress questioned whether the government will make people pay for the vaccine in other states.
The Aam Aadmi Party wondered if those who have not voted for the BJP will not get free vaccines. 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.”
Apart from the Opposition, journalists too raised questions, calling the free vaccine promise a “veiled threat” and “indefensibly outrageous”.
Facing criticism, the BJP clarified its stance on the matter. However, the party offered two different versions.
Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Chaubey said every state would be given free vaccine. “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.”
On the other hand, the party’s Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya tweeted that the Centre would provide vaccines to states at “nominal rates” and it would be up to respective state governments whether to give them for free or not.