Prime Minister Narendra Modi led from the front on Monday to launch the Covid vaccination program for all Indians above the age of 60 years. He quietly left his official residence 7, Lok Kalyan Marg at 6 am and went to AIIMS in a small convoy of security vehicles, without any big security protocol, and got himself Covaxin dose from two South Indian nurses. After the mandatory half an hour observation, Modi quietly returned home, and posted pictures on social media to break the news to the world. This was a quiet statement of confidence from the PM in the indigenously developed Covid vaccine (Covaxin) about which some experts had raised lack of adequate efficacy data in recent months.
Modi tweeted: “I appeal to all those eligible to take the vaccine. Together, let us make India Covid-19 free”. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and Home Minister Amit Shah also took the vaccine on Monday. Two chief ministers, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha also took the first dose.
Some of the opposition leaders, mostly from Congress, raised questions over the manner in which Modi took the vaccine. The Prime Minister had put an Asomiya ‘gamocha’ on his body, and the two nurses who gave him the jab, were from Puducherry and Kerala. The opposition leaders quickly linked this to the forthcoming assembly polls in these states. The leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury commented: “In the picture, there was gamcha from Assam, and nurses from Kerala and Puducherry. These states are going for elections. If PM had carried Maharshi Aurobindo’s photo and Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali, the picture would have been complete.”
Reacting to this, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said, at least on such a national issue, the opposition should not have raised objections. “Let us keep politics out of this”, he added. Strangely, another senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Khadge, who is the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said, it would have been better if the young were given preference in vaccination. “Old people have already lived their life, and the youth have a full life to live”, he said. It was Dr Harsh Vardhan again, who replied. He said, the world knows that older people are in the vulnerable category, and they must get precedence over others. “I would like Khadje Ji to take the vaccine dose soon, and let the youths wait for their turn”, he added.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi added a new twist to the story by pointing out that the German government has stated that Covishield vaccine is efficacious only for people in the age group from 18 to 64 years, and it will have no effect on people older than this category. Owaisi wanted a clarification from the PM whether Covishield is effective for people above 64 years of age or not. It was Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who replied to Owaisi’s comments. Prasad said, at a time when the world is accepting India’s major role in carrying out Covid vaccination, the opposition must change its tune and stop politicizing this issue of national importance.
Both the Union Ministers are right. There should be no politization on the issue of Covid, but if one carefully goes through how the opposition behaved during the last one year, it will be crystal clear that they had been politicizing right from Day One. Modi tried to remove fear from the minds of people by asking them to come out on their balconies, beat utensils and blow conch shells. Millions of Indians heeded to this call, but the opposition leaders made fun of this. Modi wanted to thank the Corona warriors who were out in the open, tending to Covid patients, by lighting diyas and candles. The Opposition again made fun of his appeal. When the vaccines began to be prepared, the opposition raised furore, demanding that Modi should be the first to take the vaccine. From Rahul Gandhi to Manish Tewary, Randeep Surjewala to Digvijaya Singh, most of the Congress leaders raised a chorus demanding Modi must get himself vaccinated first. NCP leader Nawab Malik and SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav gave statements to project that Modi feared being vaccinated.
Now that Modi had taken the vaccine, some of the leaders are questioning why he took Covaxin. Some may argue why he ignored Maharashtra, where the Covishield vaccine was manufactured. Some of them said, Modi is up to his political stunts by wearing Assamese ‘gamocha’ and getting himself vaccinated from South Indian nurses to influence voters in these states.
I want to remind them, both the US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin got themselves vaccinated by calling team of doctors to their residences. There was not even a whimper of protest in these two countries. And here, in India, the Prime Minister goes to AIIMS early in the morning, without wanting to trouble other patients in the hospital, gets himself vaccinated, and yet he is being pilloried for making a “political stunt”.
It would have been better if politicians of all hues had joined hands and appealed to the people to come and get themselves vaccinated. There are however exceptions. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar got Covishield vaccine at J J Hospital in Mumbai, avoided making any political statement, and appealed to people to join the vaccination drive. Janata Dal (United) supremo and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar took Covishield vaccine in Patna on his birthday, and announced that every resident of Bihar would get Covid vaccine free of cost.
Sometimes I feel, it is very difficult for an individual, like Narendra Modi, to please everybody while working as the Prime Minister of a great country like India. If the PM fails to take the vaccine, he faces criticisms, and if the PM takes the vaccine, the opposition tried to find political loopholes to criticize him. When Modi took the vaccine in front of cameras, it was called a publicity stunt. Had he avoided the cameras and taken his vaccine, the opposition would have demanded proof whether he really took the jab. There is an old saying: you can’t please everybody.
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