‘Perfectly in order’: Sitharaman defends free Covid vaccine promise for Bihar amid Oppn backlash

The ‘free Covid vaccine’ promised by BJP was slammed by Opposition parties demanding action by the Election Commission, while alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political gains.

Underfire from the Opposition over the BJP’s poll promise of free Covid vaccine in poll-bound Bihar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Friday asserted that the announcement was “perfectly in order” and that the party can announce what it wants to do when it comes to power.

“It is a manifesto announcement. A party can announce what it wants to do when it comes to power. That is exactly what is announced. Health is a state subject. It is perfectly in order,” Nirmala Sitharaman told media, according to news agency PTI.

Every party in its manifesto states what it wants to do when it comes to power, she added.

Earlier this week, the Finance Minister had released BJP’s manifesto for the Bihar polls. “The NDA government in Bihar has set an example in the fight against novel coronavirus. It is our promise that when a vaccine for COVID is available after clearance from ICMR, every Bihar resident will be given free vaccination,” the party had said in its manifesto.

The move was slammed by Opposition parties demanding action by the Election Commission (EC), while alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political gains.

The Opposition had said the promise of a vaccine in an election manifesto shows BJP’s “desperation” and asked whether non-BJP states will get free Covid vaccine.

“Corona vaccine belongs to the country. It does not belong to the BJP. The political use of the vaccine shows that they have no option but to sell the fear of the disease and death. The people of Bihar have self-respect, they do not sell their children’s future for a few pennies,” the RJD had said.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had also taken potshots at the ruling party. In a tweet, Gandhi had said: “GOI just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises,” Gandhi had tweeted.

However, as reported, sources in the Election Commission, said the BJP’s promise of free Covid-19 vaccine for the people of Bihar does not violate the Model Code of Conduct.

Asked whether the promise could be construed as undue influence as mentioned in the Commission’s guidelines on a poll manifesto, sources pointed to Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act that states “declaration of public policy or a promise of public action” cannot be seen as undue influence.

The Bihar Assembly polls are scheduled to be held in three phases, starting October 28.