BJP’s poll promise of free vaccine is not a violation: EC
The Election Commission ruled that the promise of free vaccines for all made by the BJP as part of its manifesto in Bihar is not a poll violation.
In response to a complaint filed by a private citizen, the Election Commission of India was looking to the validity of the poll promise of free coronavirus vaccines made by BJP in the ongoing Bihar assembly elections. The complaint alleged that it was a violation of the poll code through misuse of the government machinery and was discriminatory and misleading considering the vaccine policy had not yet been announced. The EC however ruled against the complaint saying it didn’t violate any of the three criteria laid down by model code that regulates party manifestos.
The first of the three criteria states that the promise should not be repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and must adhere to the model code of conduct. The second provision states that there cannot be any objection to any welfare measures in the manifesto nor should there be any measures that violate the purity of the election promises or exert an undue influence on the voter. And finally, the manifesto should only make promises that it can rationally deliver and should indicate the financial viability of such promises.
The EC ruled that the free vaccine promise did not violate any of these criteria “in the instant matter”. This was the same rationale used to give a clean chit to the Congress’ promise of implementing the NYAY scheme in the Lok Sabha polls last year which ensured a universal basic income of Rs 72,000 annually for each citizen.
A week before the first phase of polling in Bihar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the vaccines were all but ready and will be provided free to everyone in the state. The opposition had strongly condemned this as a move to politicise the pandemic and there was a call asking the EC to take suo-moto cognizance of the matter. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had tweeted that the Government of India’s vaccine access plan can be gleaned from the assembly elections scheduled in the coming months.
While experts believe that governments can’t make such promises in the lead up to the elections, political parties are free to do so. Whether this constitutes an undue influence is for the voter to decide.