04:41 GMT02 December 2020
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    India’s nationally governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to distribute free anti-COVID-19 vaccines to people in Bihar. The promise was part of an election manifesto released by the party on Thursday for Bihar, which goes to polls to elect its 243-member legislative assembly in three phases beginning 28 October.

    A major controversy erupted soon after India's governing BJP announced that over 100 million people in Bihar would not have to pay for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 if they vote the party into power in the upcoming assembly election.

    An Indian social activist, Saket Gokhale, has also filed a complaint before the Election Commission of India, saying the announcement is not only “discriminatory but also a false promise and blatant misuse of Central Government powers during elections.”

    “....it is evident that this is a gross violation of the powers of the Union Govt of India during an election, an attempt to mislead the voters of Bihar, as well as a camouflaged policy decision which seeks to promise something that hasn’t been yet been officially notified”, reads the letter.

    ​Congress lawmaker and former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor tweeted in Hindi sarcastically, “You give me vote, I will give you vaccine”.

    ​Many tweeples questioned the a politicisation of a COVID-19 vaccine.

    ​Responding to the criticism, Amit Malviya, in-charge of BJP's national Information and Technology, clarified that like all programmes, the federal government will provide vaccines to states at a nominal rate.

    "It is for the state Govts to decide if they want to give it free or otherwise. Health being a state subject, Bihar BJP has decided to give it free. Simple", Malaviya underlined.

    Currently, India is testing three vaccine candidates. Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd and Russia’s sovereign wealth fund have received approval from the country's drug regulator to conduct human clinical trials of the Sputnik V vaccine, developed in Russia.

    The federal health minister told a meeting of a Group of Ministers on 13 October that India is expecting the first COVID-19 vaccine by “early next year”.


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