Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, responding to Congress leader Manmohan Singh’s suggestions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about fighting the coronavirus pandemic, said history would be kinder to him if his own party followed his advice.
Singh, India’s former prime minister, had on Sunday written to Modi, saying that ramping up India’s vaccination programme was essential to tackle to the health crisis. “Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population,” he had said. “I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly.”
Vardhan tweeted his reply to Singh on Monday morning. He said that Singh understood the importance of vaccination, but his party didn’t seem to share his views.
“Let alone thanking our scientists, many Congress members and Congress-ruled state governments have taken extraordinary interest in spreading falsehoods regarding the efficacy of these vaccines, thereby fuelling vaccine hesitancy, and playing with the lives of our countrymen,” Vardhan alleged.
“A sitting chief minister of your [Singh’s] party created a dubious world record of sorts by being the only head of government directly inciting people against an indigenously developed vaccine!”
Vardhan alleged that some Congress leaders cast aspersions about coronavirus vaccines in public, but took them privately. “A word of advice from you to them – even if had been done by you in private – may have ensured better cooperation from these people,” Vardhan told Singh.
He added, “Knowing your penchant for constructive cooperation, which you have said you always believed in, I would assume that you did advise them and yet, quite clearly, your advice has been in vain.”
The health minister blamed Congress leaders’ “irresponsible public pronouncements” for the below-national average vaccination coverage in some of the states ruled by the party.
Vardhan said there were “factual inaccuracies” in Singh’s letter to Modi, adding that his suggestions had already been implemented by the Centre.
“We understand your deep concern for the country and also assure you that we share the same,” Vardhan added. “We request your continued cooperation in the battle against the pandemic and welcome more such illuminating suggestions. However, as a senior leader, we expect that you shall offer the same advice and wisdom to your own party leaders as well.”
Singh had said in his letter that we must “resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated”. More than 12 crore vaccine doses have been administered so far in India, but only 1.2% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Referring to this, Vardhan said that Singh’s advice was not wrong. “I am sure that you will agree with me that this is a practice that must be followed uniformly and junior members of your party too must follow your advice,” Vardhan said. “Quite obviously, it cannot be that the discussion on total cases, active cases or mortality is based on absolute numbers, which the Congress party often tries to do, but the vaccination numbers continue to be touted as a percentage of the population covered.”
The Congress has been critical of the Centre’s strategy to combat the second wave of the coronavirus raging through the country. Congress President Sonia Gandhi had said last week that despite having a year to prepare, the country was “regrettably, caught off guard again” by the second wave.