Ravi Shankar Prasad's ‘no shortage of vaccine’ remark: Rahul Gandhi vindicated, face loss for the minister

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had claimed, along with the Health Minister, that there was no shortage of vaccines and had accused Rahul Gandhi of lobbying for foreign Pharma companies

Representative Image
Representative Image

Sanjukta Basu

In an embarrassment for several BJP leaders including Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Centre has fast-tracked approval for foreign-produced vaccines cleared in other countries, just four days after Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi had advised the PM to take the step. Prasad and other BJP leaders had publicly accused Rahul Gandhi of lobbying for foreign vaccine manufacturers and lunched a vicious personal attack on the Congress leader.

Rahul Gandhi in a letter dated 8th April 2021 to the PMO had raised several concerns over the Centre’s poor implementation and ‘oversight’ in handling the renewed COVID-19 attack. Amongst his several requests and advice was the need to “fast-track approval for other vaccine candidates.”

Reacting to the letter RS Prasad on 9th April took to Twitter and hit out at Gandhi making personal attacks, calling him ‘failed part time politician’, questioning his motives and accusing him of “lobbying for pharma companies… for foreign vaccines.” Gandhi’s letter had not mentioned any particular name of either a vaccine or a company or a country so it is not clear what gave the cabinet minister the impression that he was “lobbying” for “foreign” vaccines.

Prasad had also incoherently rambled on about “India’s acquisition of fighter planes”, “vasooli ventures”, “health infrastructure of the state of Maharashtra”, Rahul Gandhi’s foreign trips, and other subjects unrelated to COVID vaccination. He also claimed, “India is not facing any vaccine shortage.” Similar claim was also made by the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Besides R S Prasad, Smriti Irani also took jibes at the Congress MP. “BJP leaders are easily rattled by Rahul Gandhi’s sharp questions. But why were they rattled with mere suggestions?” asked Congress spokesperson Alka Lamba, reacting to the outrage from BJP’s rank and file.

Despite cabinet ministers maintaining on record that there was no vaccine shortage and RS Prasad being of the opinion that Rahul Gandhi’s suggestions were flawed or malafide, the Centre went ahead and did exactly what was suggested by Rahul Gandhi in his letter to the Prime Minister.

It raises several questions over RS Prasad’s credibility as a political commentator. Did he have any justification to make derogatory remarks against Rahul Gandhi? Should he have been measured in his behaviour? Should the public ignore his baseless salvos in future?

It is clear that the fast-tracking is a significant move and a surprise departure from Centre’s prior strategy on vaccines. Rahul Gandhi has claimed credit for this shift.

“First they ignore you then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” he said on Twitter. Pro-government media and right- wing propaganda websites like Op India have tried to convince otherwise. It is claimed that Rahul Gandhi’s intervention was not the reason government took the decision to fast-track vaccine approval, but they are not able to explain who or what else is the reason? Centre has not issued any statement explaining it either.

Meanwhile Mr Prasad was seen retweeting Op India’s Tweets seemingly in an attempt to save his face.

National Herald tried to reach out to Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad via email and phone to ask him the following questions:

1. On what basis did you believe that Rahul Gandhi was lobbying for foreign companies?

2. Would you say that the Centre’s decision to fast-track approval of foreign-made vaccines is also the result of lobbying by these firms?

3. Rahul Gandhi has claimed that it was because of his letter that the government decided to fast-track approval. Would you deny it?

4. What stopped the Centre from taking this decision earlier? You claimed there is no vaccine shortage in the country. If there is no shortage, then why fast-track the approval of foreign vaccines?

5. Would you agree that in hindsight your diatribe against an opposition leader and fellow MP was unbecoming of the office you hold?

(NH was not able to contact the minister on phone. The questions have been mailed to him. As and when we receive his reply, this report will be updated)

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