Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that the central government would bear the cost of immunization of all people above the age of 18 years and that it was withdrawing the responsibility of buying vaccines from states. States are struggling to buy vaccines which resulted in low vaccination numbers in May 2021.
The Modi government responded positively to the growing demand from states to re-centralize the entire process and go back to the original policy. The chief ministers of opposition-ruled states thanked the prime minister for the move, while not forgetting to take credit.
He claimed that the Center withdrew the ‘flawed’ vaccine policy to save its face before the Supreme Court. He claimed that none of them had said that states should be allowed to buy vaccines from domestic and foreign manufacturers. The famous saying ‘grapes are sour’ suits them like ‘t’.
“Nobody, but nobody said that the Center should not buy vaccines. He (PM) now accuses the state governments and says – they wanted to buy vaccines so we gave them permission. Let us know which CM, which state government on which date demanded that they should be allowed to buy vaccines,” said Chidambaram.
However, soon after a letter from the West Bengal Chief Minister addressed to the PM in February 2021 surfaced on social media where she wanted free vaccinations to be introduced ahead of the assembly elections.
“We would request you to kindly take up this matter with appropriate authority so that the state government can procure vaccines from the designated points on top priority basis, as the West Bengal government wants to provide free vaccination to all people, Banerjee wrote in her letter. is.
Soon, an embarrassed Chidambaram had to eat his own words: “I told ANI ‘Please tell us which state government demanded that it should be allowed to buy vaccines directly’. Posted the copy of the letter to the PM of West Bengal. I was wrong. I stand right,” tweeted Chidambaram.
Prime Minister's declaration that COVID19 vaccine will be supplied free of cost to the States from 21 June, is the most appropriate response at this hour. I am happy that our request has been positively responded to by the Prime Minister: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
There were several reasons why opposition-ruled states were demanding – through official as well as unofficial channels – the right to purchase vaccines and to vaccinate their citizens.
(i) PM Modi was taking all the credit for vaccination
(ii) Modi government was allegedly biased in dealing with them
(iii) These State Governments faced public outrage for non-availability/shortage with no control over the supply
(iv) They wanted more control over the entire vaccination campaign and process
(v) Some people may find some drawbacks from the international tendering process (the reason for this cannot be ruled out considering the level of corruption in India)
On 19 April the central government accepted the pressure of the state governments and allowed them to vaccinate people in the age group of 18-45 from 1 May.
There was a lack of oxygen, beds, medicines and gum all around. India was seeing over 250,000 cases per day. The BJP’s claim that health is a state subject and the fact that states were managing a localized lockdown was not working on the ground.
The decision allowed Modi to hold opposition-ruled chief ministers accountable for immunizations and saving lives. This strategy, in a way, helped in sharing the blame with the state governments for their handling of the crisis at a time when public anger was high.
Several opposition states did not do much to import vaccines during the 10 odd days before the campaign began on May 1, resulting in the program not starting. Some states had floated tenders, which were done only in mid-May. None of them have been able to secure any deal.
Frustrated with his own failure, he started targeting the central government for this shortcoming. And finally he demanded that the Modi government should buy the vaccines in bulk and distribute them to the states.
Complexities in procurement including pricing, delivery, taxation, compensation, regulatory approvals, etc., soon became known to state governments, some of which claimed they could manage things on their own. There is a well-known metaphor in Hindi: ‘Aate dal ka bhav janata hona’ (coming face to face with reality and understanding that solving some problems is not easy).
This helped Modi prove that chief ministers of opposition-ruled states failed to buy vaccines against his tall claims. The original centralized policy led by the Prime Minister, with India emerging as the fastest inoculator in the world, was better.
This also helped the Prime Minister to find time. Purchase contracts and new suppliers were finalized, taking the estimated procurement to 216 crore doses. By the end of the year, a roadmap for vaccination of all was prepared. Cases, meanwhile, peaked and then began to decline, ending days of gloom. With phased unlocking, positivity returned to the markets.
As a political consultant, I often advise clients not to make demands on opponents that they can easily fulfill. What if he accepts the demand? Then what?
Modi’s latest move to take back control of vaccination in the country has alarmed the opposition. States cannot criticize the announcement as the opposition was demanding it.
They may try to take credit but it will not stand with the people as the original centralized plan was prepared by the Modi government and not the opposition.