Model and social media star Poonam Pandey’s death hoax has drawn attention to the issue of cervical cancer. The news of Pandey’s death due to cervical cancer appeared in newspapers on the same day as Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget announcement stating that “Our Government will encourage vaccination for girls in the age group of 9 to 14 years for the prevention of cervical cancer.” Sitharaman’s announcement surprised many as opinion within the government has been divided on this vaccine.
The Union health ministry in a statement dated January 13 this year said that no decision has been taken regarding the launch of the HPV vaccine in the country. It said that reports regarding the government beginning the vaccine rollout in the second quarter of 2024 are not true. Sitharaman’s announcement in the interim Budget was, therefore, unexpected. According to sources, the government had recently planned a formal launch of the HPV vaccine where the Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla was to present the first indigenously made vaccine to the President of India.
But the programme was cancelled at the last minute due to the controversy surrounding the vaccine. While government agencies such as the National Technical Advisory Group for Immunisation and the Niti Ayog are strongly in favour of launching the HPV vaccine, sources said the move is being opposed by a section of the Union health ministry and a powerful Sangh Parivar organisation. According to sources, the finance minister’s statement notwithstanding, the Union government is yet to take a final view on the HPV vaccine.
SP, Congress to resume talks after public spat
The Samajwadi Party and Congress leadership have decided to return to the table after a public spat which threatened to end the possibility of a seat-sharing pact between the two parties. The Congress negotiators had
shared with the Samajwadi Party a list of two dozen Lok Sabha seats which the party had either won in the past or stood second in a previous election. The Samajwadi Party rejected the Congress claim over most of these seats and instead offered the grand old party eleven seats which are considered tough for the two opposition parties. Most of these seats do not figure in the list given by the Congress.
The SP did not stop there. It went ahead and unilaterally announced its candidates for sixteen seats. This angered the Congress and it appeared that talks between the two parties had broken down and Uttar Pradesh was headed for the four-cornered contest with BJP, SP, BSP and Congress as the main players. Sources, however, said that the Congress and SP leadership have decided to ignore the initial acrimony and get back to discussions.
While Congress has been waiting to engage with the SP leadership, sources said SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has been pressured by the party’s Muslim leaders to restart talks with the Congress. The SP is likely to concede between 15-20 seats of Congress’s choice in the state.
The writer is Resident Editor, TNIE, New Delhi.