Has Piyush Goyal done a Mohan Bhagwat with NEET comment in Tamil Nadu?

Updated: Apr 15, 2019, 14:40 IST | Krishnakumar Padmanabhan | Chennai

Among the questions Piyush Goyal was asked in a press conference was whether the BJP would reconsider its position on the abolition of NEET

Rahul Gandhi, Congress president and  Piyush Goyal, Union minister
Rahul Gandhi, Congress president and Piyush Goyal, Union minister

Chennai: It was all going to plan till April 12: The ruling ADMK-BJP combine extolling the virtues of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Opposition DMK-Congress alliance promising change, minimum income and better jobs. Then came Rahul Gandhi, with his unusually mature speeches in several southern Tamil Nadu cities, which most likely were written by local spinmasters. Tamil Nadu will be allowed to keep its identity and culture, he said, unlike the BJP, which wants to homogenise India. Among the many local issues he touched upon was the controversial National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions.

Earlier, in states like TN, colleges affiliated to the state admitted students based on their Std XII scores. With NEET, they had to take an English all-India entrance exam tailored for CBSE students, which disadvantaged state board and Tamil-medium students, who nonetheless had high scores in Std XII. This culminated in the suicide of a student S Anitha.

No more suicides, please

Thus, one of the DMK's election promises was to categorically discontinue NEET in Tamil Nadu if voted to power. On April 12, this promise received the stamp of Rahul Gandhi. "We do not want any more suicides in the state because of NEET," he said in Salem district. "That is why we have mentioned in our manifesto that Among the questions he was asked in a press conference was whether the BJP would reconsider its position on the abolition of NEET. states will have the option to opt in or out of NEET."

The same day, the BJP in-charge of Tamil Nadu, senior Union Minister Piyush Goyal, was in Chennai. Goyal stuck to his guns. "I don't think NEET should be scrapped," he said.

"The issue has already been settled. Rahul Gandhi is promising to revive an old system, which benefits college managements that take large capitation fees. I am sure the people of Tamil Nadu want seats to be given based on merit." Goyal's 'merit' argument is extremely unlikely to find any takers in a state with 24 government medical colleges and where people think they have the right of first use to these colleges. With NEET, local students have lost out to CBSE students despite scoring high marks in Std XII (Anitha's 1,176/1,200 would have earned her a spot in a very good medical college in the state).

"Tamil Nadu has built 24 government-run medical colleges and the money to build the top-class infrastructure for them has come from state coffers," said TKS Elangovan, DMK spokesperson. "Now they see outsiders taking away so many seats due to this hare-brained concept and they are angry. It is a highly emotive issue."

Too real an issue

And it is not an issue that is up in the air. It is too real and immediate for the students of the state, as NEET is to be held three weeks from now. A report in the Chennai edition of the Times of India on Sunday said that more than 16,000 students from government and government-aided schools have not received their coaching material yet. Worse, a few coaching centres have distributed last year's course material in desperation, the report said.

Considering all these, Goyal's comments are reminiscent of Mohan Bhagwat's words on reservation two days before the Bihar Assembly polls in 2015, if not worse. "Goyal's comments have touched a raw nerve. Its import is bigger than that of reservations. NEET affects people across the state, irrespective of their caste. It won't go down well with them," said Elangovan.

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