It is really disturbing to see the nation’s Finance Minister, while releasing the BJP’s Manifesto for Bihar Assembly elections, announce that if the NDA comes to power then they will administer free Coronavirus vaccine to everyone in Bihar. If this was not enough, another BJP functionary went on to say that if the NDA government is voted to power, then Bihar will be first state to get Coronavirus-19 vaccine.
This announcement is a blatant allurement. It goes against the Representation of the People Act 1951. It is against the moral code of conduct of elections. Not only that, it also goes against all the ethics of public life. A vaccine which is a life saving drug should be delivered according to the needs of the people in each state of the country and not according to the needs of a political party. Discrimination assumes a different proportion when you say something about a life-saving drug; it also involves bio-ethics as well.
Political parties always discriminate with states on the basis of economic and resource allocation. They use their whims and fancies in distributing largesse to their preferred states and forgetting the others. However, discrimination by a political party in the distribution of life-saving drugs in the times of a pandemic is never heard of in the history of independent India’s politics. We are aware that India is still a welfare state. The ethical issue involved here is that- a disease like Covid-19 does not discriminate between states. The disease does not discriminate between rich and poor, rural and urban population, etc. Then how can a political party discriminate between people of different states with the treatment? Hence the whole announcement is unethical and discriminatory.
Under these circumstances the election commission is the only authority to analyze and direct whether this pronouncement is allurement and unethical and hence against Representation of the People Act-1951. That is why the main opposition party Congress has approached the CEC. However, going by the past record, it looks like the Commission at the most can issue a warning or set up a committee to look into a matter, but it will not take the required stringent action against the ruling dispensation.
What is the policy of International agency ‘World Health Organization’ (WHO) for resource allocation during a pandemic? In fact, ‘WHO’ has issued broad policy guidelines for resource allocation during the pandemic. According to the policy document, “Government, International agencies and health systems have an obligation to ensure, to the best of their ability, adequate provision of health care for all…This policy brief answer a number of questions about the ethics of setting priorities for the allocation of resources during time of scarcity. Such decisions may include access to hospitals, ventilators, vaccines and medicines.”
Further, the policy document clearly states that, “When resources are scarce…resource allocation should be guided by well established, broadly applicable ethical principle…Irrelevant characteristics of population within countries, such as ethnicity, race or creed, should play no role in any role allocation in any pandemic. This reflects our commitment to treating people with equal respect”.1 In the list of irrelevant characteristics of a country we should add caste, region and religion to make it more contextual.
Therefore, one can easily conclude that while alluring people in the elections through their manifestos, political parties should not violate the national and international ethical codes. Even if the national ruling elite is silent the international community and supra institutions are watching us, we should not forget.
1. https://www.who.int/ethics/publications/ethics-covid-19-resource-allocation.pdf?ua=1 accessed on October 20, 2020 at 1 PM, Delhi.
Prof Vivek Kumar is Professor of Sociology and Public Intellectual and teaches at JNU, New Delhi.