Free Covid-19 Vaccine Promise Not Violation Of Poll Code

The BJP's promise of providing free coronavirus vaccines in its manifesto for the Bihar assembly polls is not violative of the provisions of the model code, the Election Commission has held. The commission cited certain guidelines for election manifestos contained, in Part VIII of the Model Code of Conduct, to conclude that the free vaccine promise was not violative of it.

Earlier this month, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman launched the BJP’s manifesto for Assembly elections in Bihar on October 22. “As soon as the Covid-19 vaccine will be available for production at a mass scale, every person in Bihar will get a free vaccination,” she said. “This is the first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto.” Opposition parties strongly criticised the BJP for politicising the health crisis..

The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution enjoin upon the State to frame various welfare measures for the citizens and therefore there can be no objection to the promise of such welfare in the election manifesto," one of the provisions was quoted by the Election commission. Meanwhile, in the first phase of the 2020 Bihar Assembly election on October 28, the voter turnout of the state has broken all records, even under the shadow of the deadly pandemic.

The voter turnout in Bihar has been recorded at 55.69%, higher than the 2015 Bihar Assembly election and 2019 Lok Sabha election. The polls were held in 71 constituencies spread across 16 districts amid tight security and strict COVID-19 regulations in place. The elections for the 243-person House will take place in three phases - on October 28, November 3 and November 7. The results will be announced on November 10. The BJP, however, said health is a state subject and its manifesto is for Bihar, not for the entire country, where it has promised that the state will buy the vaccine for its people. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at the BJP, saying one has to refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when one will have access to the vaccine.

The Election Commission cited three provisions of the Model Code of Conduct to justify the clean chit to the BJP. “State election manifestos should not contain anything repugnant to the Constitution; should avoid making promises that vitiate the purity of the electoral process or exert undue influence on the voter; and should reflect the rationale behind promises,” the poll body said. It added: No violation of any of the provisions of Model Code of Conduct has been observed in the instant matter.” The poll body also said that manifestos are released by political parties for a specific election. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said that the party was proud of its promise. He added that the assurances showed that healthcare was a priority for the BJP.

The announcement was met with severe criticism from opposition parties. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and several other politicians voiced their displeasure and labeled the BJP’s vaccine promise an election stunt.

India has not yet signed a deal for a coronavirus vaccine so it is unclear when it will be available for use in the country, despite the leaders’ promises. The governments of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Puducherry have also announced free of cost vaccines for the people of their states. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said last Saturday that the vaccine should be free for all Indians. India has reported 81,37,119 coronavirus cases and 1,21,641 deaths so far. The number of active cases in the country stood at 5,82,649 on Saturday, while the recoveries have reached 74,32,829.

Author: Sukeerthi A

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