As the poll-bound Bihar gears up to host India’s first post-pandemic election, the NDA and Mahagathbandhan are battling it out for the state’s top post. However, in a break from party’s policy of not giving away doles to win votes, the BJP has promised “Free vaccines for Bihar” in its manifesto which on atlas on the looks of its, seems to be a very unwise statement.
In successive elections, the BJP has made it a point to never put freebies to the electorate in a bid to win votes. However, in an apparent break from the traditions, the party has promised free vaccines for all in the poll-bound Bihar which is a wrong precedent.
Any potential vaccines should never have been made a poll issue and it seems to be a self-goal of epic proportions. The central and state governments have performed their duties during the pandemic, including providing free or subsidised COVID tests in govt testing centres. Then why the free vaccine promises only to Bihar?
Technically, the BJP has violated no norms by announcing free vaccines, however, the party as the biggest constituent of ruling NDA has a moral responsibility. Offering a life-saving vaccine as bait doesn’t seem to be morally correct.
Any potential vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus will likely be either heavily subsidised or free, through a vaccine cess. It is pertinent to note that Polio vaccines in the country are available at free of cost at government testing centres. While Congress in the past had mentioned free Polio vaccines in its manifesto, people don’t expect the same from the BJP as the party has consistently shied away from populism or freebies even if it meant taking a loss in state elections.
While there is nothing illegitimate about the free vaccine promise, the optics are pretty bad. The fact that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman herself announced this important decision hasn’t gone down well leaving people with the feeling that unless their states are poll-bound they won’t receive free vaccines.
In all likelihood, any potential vaccine will be highly subsidised or be distributed for free, which will vary from state to state, with the Central government also marking $7 billion for vaccine distribution. The BJP has massively bungled messaging and perception.
Perhaps the ire against Nitish Kumar might have forced the party’s hand into making this knee-jerk reaction. While the opinion polls show NDA securing a comfortable victory in Bihar, the polls also show a wave of unanimous anger against Nitish Kumar with the goodwill of the Modi government helping Nitish sail through. Things on the ground can change quickly and the BJP is perhaps dreading the possibility of CM Tejaswi Yadav which will almost certainly take Bihar back to the days of jungle raj and hence has dolled out free vaccines as bait to ensure a comfortable majority for the NDA.