Vaccination drive in Karnataka, an exercise in vote-bank politics

BJP MLAs/MPs have been frequently accused of giving preference to their party members and certain sections of the society

There already exists a divide on the lines of class, demography and technology whereby a large section of the vulnerable population remains out of the ambit of vaccination. | Representational image

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is turning into a nightmare for the people of Karnataka even as the ruling party MLAs are accused of calling the shots on who gets the jabs first.

There already exists a divide on the lines of class, demography and technology whereby a large section of the vulnerable population remains out of the ambit of vaccination. In addition, people have to beat the subservient selfish interests of BJP legislators to get what rightly belongs to them – the vaccine.

The BJP MLAs have been accused of turning the vaccination drive into a vote-bank appeasement exercise. ‘Preferential groups’ chosen by their MLAs and MPs get the shots on priority even as several people walking into the vaccination centres are turned away citing a shortage of jabs.

At a public health centre (PHCs) in Bengaluru’s CV Raman Nagar constituency, a section of MLAs ‘hijacked’ the vaccines meant for people to ensure BJP workers get the jabs first, it has been reported.

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In one of the urban PHCs, people lined up in queue as early as 6 am and even got the tokens. They were asked to come at 10 am. They came back and waited till 10.30am, but did not get any response. When asked, the PHC staff told them to go to a marriage hall attached to a temple, a few feet away from MLA S Raghu’s house in the same locality.

Also read: Vaccine procurement ‘cannot be a battle among states’: Patnaik

When people with tokens reached the location, they were told their tokens were not valid. Even as a banner with the photo of the MLA claimed it’s a free vaccination drive, the residents alleged the jabs were given to BJP cadres, their friends and families. Even elderly people were turned back.

The party workers near the MLA office said they were not diverting jabs meant for the public, but only moved them from a PHC to a bigger location to ensure safe administration and better crowd management. MLA Raghu claimed he had no self-serving interest, but only people’s interests in his mind.

Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar said if vaccination was scheduled at a particular PHC, then people should be given the vaccines at the same place without delay. He promised action after speaking to the PHC doctor.

Days later, Deputy Chief Minister CN Ashwath Narayan organised a vaccination drive in Malleshwaram, but with a religious overtone. The deputy CM gave priority to temple priests, their family members and those working in temples.

People who gathered at the vaccination centre said caste divide was evident as some sections of the society were not allowed. A scuffle broke out between the guards manning the vaccine centre and people who waited in the queue.

While Congress leaders said BJP legislators were pampering their vote-bank, the deputy CM hit back saying the Congress has been politicising the vaccine issue right from the start. “It is ironic that the Congress, which has been politicizing the vaccine issue from the very beginning, now sees a caste angle in the vaccination drive for the preferred group and frontline workers. Over 9,000 vaccinations have been done in Malleswaram and there’s no question of caste or religious preference,” Narayan tweeted.

The deputy CM said they have vaccinated drivers, medical personnel, street vendors, among others. “Congress, instead of looking at everything from a caste perspective, should responsibly cooperate with the society in times of distress. Such low-level politics will not be tolerated by Kannadigas,” Narayan said in another tweet.

It is, however, evident that instead of vaccinating vulnerable sections of the society, somewhere along the line, the political leadership seems bent on cashing in on the opportunity to serve their interest groups.

Last month, Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya (Bangalore South) arranged for a paid vaccination drive in a private hospital, even as the PHC next door reported no vaccine availability. The MP drew flak for his action. Besides, his uncle and MLA, Ravi Subramanya, was accused of “vaccine trade” where, in a leaked audiotape, a private hospital employee claimed that the hospital paid Rs 700 per vaccine to the MLA, who was defending the steep cost of the vaccine i.e. Rs 900.

Subramanya denied the allegations.

The opposition Congress ran social media campaigns with #BJPvaccinescam, accusing the BJP legislators of holding such controversial drives. The Congress, on the other hand, claimed it is reaching out to below poverty line (BPL) cardholders through free vaccination camps organised in association with NGOs.

The vote-bank politics at play in Karnataka is appalling even as the nation faces one of the worst health and humanitarian crises ever.

This comes at a time when the Supreme Court flagged the current vaccination distribution as “arbitrary” and ordered the Union government to review the policy to address concerns raised. The Court noted the digital divide, particularly between rural and urban areas, and said a vaccination policy exclusively relying on a digital portal would obstruct the universal immunization programme.

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