Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the Bharatiya Janata Party was “proud” of promising a free Covid-19 vaccine in its manifesto for poll-bound Bihar, The Hindu reported on Tuesday. Prasad said that the promise reflected the priority his party gives to healthcare.
“The BJP is concerned about healthcare and we talk of health in our manifesto, that reflects our priority,” he said. “Others talk of reviewing prohibition, that reflects their priority.”
Last week, the BJP landed in controversy after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while releasing the saffron party’s manifesto for Bihar elections, promised to provide “free coronavirus vaccination for all”. Opposition leaders and journalists took exception to the promise and raised questions over the use of vaccines to further political agenda.
Speaking to The Hindu on the fairness of a political party promising free vaccination in a particular state amid a pandemic, Prasad said that all states could possibly provide free vaccines.
“We have no problems if other states also give free vaccines. Our promise relates to the fact that health is a state subject and if NDA is voted to power in the state, we will provide free vaccines,” he said. He also drew comparison with Congress’s poll promises of providing farm loan waivers in other states, to justify his party’s stand.
Prasad is BJP’s member in the Lok Sabha from Bihar’s Patna Sahib city and has been campaigning in the state in the lead up to the Assembly polls. Assembly elections in Bihar will be held in three phases between October 28 and November 7. The results will be declared on November 10.
Differing clarifications from BJP
Since the controversy on BJP’s promise erupted, a number of clarifications with differing versions have come from BJP leaders.
Soon after Sitharaman made the announcement, Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Chaubey had said that the states will be provided free vaccines by the Centre. “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,” he had told reporters.
On the other hand, the party’s Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya had 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.
Then on Sunday, Union minister Pratap Sarangi said that all people of the country will be given free vaccines, reported PTI.
Meanwhile, the governments of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Puducherry have already announced free of cost vaccines for the people of their states, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has demanded free vaccine for all citizens across the country.