As India zeroes in on the rollout of its first coronavirus vaccine, a bizarre comment by Akhilesh Yadav - the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister said he couldn't "trust the BJP's vaccine" - provoked a sharp response from Union Minster Anurag Thakur and Deputy Chief Minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The Samajwadi Party chief also appeared to urge people against seeking protection from an infectious virus that has killed nearly 1.5 lakh people in India alone, declaring: "We cannot get vaccinated by the BJP's vaccine". Mr Yadav then promised "free vaccines" on winning UP state elections due in 2022.
Mr Thakur called the Samajwadi Party chief's statement "very unfortunate" and Mr Maurya slammed him for "insulting doctors and the scientists of the country". Both BJP leaders also pounced on Mr Yadav for playing politics.
On Saturday morning Akhilesh Yadav told reporters: "How can I trust the vaccine, which will be used for vaccination by the BJP? We cannot get vaccinated by the BJP''s vaccine." He also said his party would come to power after the 2022 polls and everybody would get the vaccine for free.
The remarks prompted an immediate response from the BJP.
"Akhilesh Yadav's statement - that he "won't get vaccinated as it is a BJP vaccine" is very unfortunate...What can be more unfortunate than a young leader linking Covid vaccine to a political party. It shows he can't think above politics," Mr Thakur told news agency ANI.
"Akhilesh Yadav does not have trust in the vaccine, and people of Uttar Pradesh do not have trust in Akhilesh Yadav. His raising questions on the vaccine is an insult to doctors and scientists of the country. He should tender an apology," UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya said.
The remarks came as the centre conducted a nationwide dry run to identify potential problems in vaccine delivery; tests were held in 116 districts across 259 sites, including six places in Lucknow.
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that around three crore frontline workers, including doctors, nurses and essential services like the police, will be first in line to be vaccinated. Dr Vardhan also stressed that existing vaccines were expected to work against mutated strains of the virus that were first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
On Friday a centre-appointed panel recommended the Oxford vaccine - manufactured by Pune's Serum Institute - be cleard by the DCGI for emergency use authorisation.
India has over 2.5 lakh active coronavirus cases, data from Saturday morning showed. Uttar Pradesh has nearly 14,000 active cases and has recorded over 8,000 deaths linked to the virus.
With input from ANI