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Political row over Adar Poonawalla’s claims

Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla claim that he had received “aggressive demands” from some “powerful people” of the country for vaccines has turned into a political slugfest between the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
PUBLISHED ON MAY 04, 2021 01:32 AM IST

Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla claim that he had received “aggressive demands” from some “powerful people” of the country for vaccines has turned into a political slugfest between the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The MVA has asked Poonawalla to disclose the names, while BJP said they have information on who threatened the SII chief, but will disclose the names at an “appropriate” time.

Maharashtra minister of state for home Shambhuraj Desai, who is a Shiv Sena leader, said, “If someone is threatening Poonawalla, he can file a written complaint with the police department. We will probe the matter.”

Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole in his media interaction appealed to Poonawalla to disclose the names of the “influential” people who threatened him and promised security.

“It is beyond logic to understand why Poonawalla has been provided Y-category security by the central government without any request or proven threat perception. It needs to be checked if the security had been provided to keep a watch on the industrialist. Both Poonawalla and the central government need to clarify on this issue,” said Patole.

In an interview with British newspaper The Times, Poonawalla who heads Pune-based SII, talked about receiving “aggressive calls from some of the most powerful people in India”, demanding the supply of vaccines. He said that the level of expectation and aggression was “unprecedented”. Currently, Poonawalla is in London to be with his wife and children.

The state BJP also jumped into the controversy, with leader Ashish Shelar claiming that he knew the people threatening Poonawalla. “Various names are cropping up in the case related to the threats to SII’s Adar Poonawalla. If the links are connected to the local party, then it needs to be taken very seriously. We have specific information about it and BJP will expose them. The people who are involved should be ready to face consequences,” warned Shelar.

A news channel had claimed that Shiv Sena workers were threatening Poonawalla for vaccines. Industries minister Subhash Desai wrote a strong-worded letter to the channel, objecting to it defaming the party. The channel anchor expressed regret later, calling it “mixing of identities”. But Sena has demanded an apology on prime time show over the allegation.

The name of farmer leader Raju Shetti has also cropped up in this matter. Shetti has warned that he would not allow vaccine trucks to leave the state till Maharashtra gets its “rightful share” of the doses. “I have never called Poonawalla and had warned central government that I will not allow discrimination to Maharashtra. The state has the highest number of Covid-19 cases and the [SII’s Covishield] vaccine is produced here. Hence, we are entitled for a larger quota,” said Shetti.

Meanwhile, NCP slammed Poonawalla over the vaccine prices. “He [Poonawalla] sold vaccines at 150 per dose to the Centre and at 400 per dose for the states. When people started questioning him, he reduced the price by 100. All this has created suspicion [over profit making] about him. No one is trying to defame him,” NCP’s chief spokesperson Nawab Malik said.

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