The claim of free COVID-19 vaccination has become the latest flashpoint between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP as West Bengal prepares for two more rounds of voting in the assembly election.
During the Bihar election campaign last October, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, the BJP had promised to vaccinate people for free in the state where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and the BJP are allies.
The BJP has brought that promise to West Bengal now. "As soon as BJP government comes to power in West Bengal, COVID-19 vaccine will be provided free of cost to everyone," the BJP tweeted from its official handle.
As soon as BJP government comes to power in West Bengal, COVID-19 vaccine will be provided free of cost to everyone. pic.twitter.com/gzxCOUMjpr— BJP Bengal (@BJP4Bengal) April 23, 2021
It comes a day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress made the same promise in a tweet on Thursday. "Free universal vaccination for everyone above the age of 18 post May 5," the Trinamool tweeted.
The Trinamool quickly pointed out that the BJP "forgot" about free vaccines in Bihar soon after it returned to power last November. Ms Banerjee's party alleged that the BJP will similarly forget West Bengal, too.
"BJP's free vaccine jumla with two phases to go in Bengal. Remember what BJP did in Bihar? They announced during the election free vaccines. Elections finished, they forgot. Free vaccine jumla, vaccines for all in Bengal, don't believe the BJP, don't trust the BJP," Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien said in a video statement.
The Bihar government has so far vaccinated over 63 lakh people, according to data shared by the government on Thursday. Those who have been vaccinated for free are included in this. Bihar, however, lags in total vaccination compared to most other big states. Rajasthan, for example, has vaccinated 1.19 crore people so far, according to data on the government's CoWIN website.
The Bengal election is being held amid a deadly second wave of COVID-19 that has put immense pressure on the country's health infrastructure. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ms Banerjee have cancelled their remaining rallies to avoid crowding. The Trinamool has requested the Election Commission to club the two remaining rounds of voting into one.
Voting will be held on April 26 and 29; counting is on May 2.