Actor-politician Kamal Haasan has slammed the ruling BJP, and its Tamil Nadu ally, the AIADMK, over a "free vaccine" promise the party made yesterday while releasing its manifesto for next week's Bihar election. The criticism comes a day after Tamil Nadu - the actor's home state, where the BJP is allied with the AIADMK - made an identical promise.
Lashing out at an "evil promise for a non-existent vaccine", Kamal Haasan said: "A vaccine is a life-saving drug, not a sprinkling promise."
"You are used to playing with people's poverty. If you dare to play with their lives, your political lifetime will be decided by the people," the MNM (Makkal Needhi Maiam) chief said Friday evening.
Chief Minister E Palaniswami, whose state is due to hold elections next year, had said: "Once COVID-19 vaccine is ready, it will be provided to all people of the state free of cost".
On Thursday Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the "first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto" was that every person in Bihar would get free coronavirus vaccines.
The Bihar poll promise was met with shock and indignation by opposition leaders and others, leaving the BJP fending off allegations that it was using the promise of a vaccine - for an infectious and fatal illness that has already killed over one lakh people in India alone - for its political agenda.
Despite the wave of criticism that followed - Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among those who hit out at the BJP - Madhya Pradesh, where the party is in sole power, also promised free vaccines.
Refer to your state election schedules to know when to get the Covid vaccine, Mr Gandhi quipped.
GOI just announced India's Covid access strategy.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 22, 2020
Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises.
Mr Kejriwal asked: "What about non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn't vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?"
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah called it blatant populism, and Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut - whose party was allied with the BJP till October last year - said it showed the BJP's "discriminatory nature".
The BJP, initially quiet, later responded via Bihar leader Bhupender Yadav, who said the vaccine would be available at a nominal cost, which the states could opt to bear.
"Your (the Congress's) attempt to twist Nirmala Sitharaman's statement reeks of desperation. All parties issue manifestos. Vaccines will be made available to all Indians at nominal costs. States can make it free. In Bihar, we will," he declared.
The hunt for a viable Covid vaccine has become the focus of headlines across the world. India has logged over 77.6 lakh cases since the pandemic began in China in December last year. Only the United States, with 84 lakh cases, has more.
On Thursday Covaxin, the vaccine being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), was cleared for the third phase of clinical trials.
Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured "speedy" access to the vaccine for all and suggested that officials apply lessons from India's successful conduct of national elections to ensure vaccine delivery and distribution.