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NEET scam puts focus back on youth unemployment

NEET scam puts focus back on youth unemployment

BJP, in its arrogance and hurry to control every institution, sought to colourise education. Numerous paper leaks and the Opposition's push to highlight those may yield some meaningful reforms, in the post-election’s scenario.

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Last Updated : 22 June 2024, 05:55 IST
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The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) saga has the potential to centrestage the issue of unemployment in Indian politics, and it is now up to the renewed Opposition to fight for the youth.

June 4 was not only a turning point in Indian politics but also a day when the NEET examination results were prematurely announced, allegedly amidst the din of the election results — presumably to avoid any scrutiny. The Congress-led I.N.D.I.A. bloc has gained a significant footprint in national polity, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to secure a simple majority of 272 seats in the Lok Sabha on its own.

Political observers credit the strengthening of the Opposition to high inflation and massive unemployment, among several other reasons. In the middle of the campaign, when the news of the NEET paper leak started trickling in on May 6, the Congress was the first to react, with its top leadership attacking the Modi government.

Importantly, the Congress’ campaign had a special focus on unemployment and recruitment in government jobs. Its much-debated manifesto promised not only a law on paper leaks, but also fast-track courts, monetary compensation for the aspirants, a Right to Apprenticeship Law to skill freshers entering the market, and a job calendar for filling, what Congress claimed, 3 million vacancies in government jobs.

‘Paper Leak Se Mukti’, ‘Pehli Naukri Pakki’, and ‘Bharti Bharosa’ — these guarantees espoused by the Congress, made it seem that the party was sincere in its outreach to the young voters, especially those who have borne the brunt of wasted years, preparing for government entrance examinations. It is not a surprise that Congress won the support of small towns, semi-urban centres, and rural India.

The I.N.D.I.A. bloc benefitted heavily from this support in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Eastern Rajasthan — where joblessness, including issues of the Agnipath scheme, made sure that the young unemployed voted against the BJP. A CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey states that even though the BJP was able to get about 37 per cent votes from those under the age of 35 years, the I.N.D.I.A. bloc closed this gap to 35 per cent under this category. The Congress has also consistently made the snatching of reservation of the SC, the ST, the OBC, and the EWS jobs, by not filling government vacancies a potent issue in this election. This has also had a spiralling effect in rural India.

The NEET paper leak and the cancellation of the NET-UGC examination, both conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), have yet again put the focus back on the youth. The future of 3.3 million students is at stake, with multiple cases being filed in the Supreme Court and the apex court warning the Union government that not even 0.001 per cent negligence in conducting the examination would be tolerated.

The entire process of examinations to actual recruitment has become painstakingly cumbersome. Aspirants leave their small towns and villages, pawn their family silver on coaching for years, and toil hard, only to be told that the exam is cancelled due to paper leaks. Paper leaks for government recruitment have become a norm. In the last seven years, at least 70 paper leak cases have shattered the dreams of more than 20 million students. The dearth of government jobs, still a priority for most of the youth, is evident when a whopping 1.3 million students appear in the UPSC exam for a total of just 1,255 vacancies.

In the NEET case, the Union education minister first called the allegations of paper leaks ‘motivated’. Later, when the news of the arrests in Bihar, Gujarat, and Haryana started pouring in, he retracted his statements by saying “some irregularities had come to light” at “some specific locations”. The UGC-NET 2024 exams were cancelled a day after it was conducted. I.N.D.I.A. bloc leaders were quick to demand the cancellation of NEET, on similar lines.

It is important to note that out of the 100,000 NEET seats, around 55,000 are in government colleges where they are reserved for the SC, the ST, the OBC, and the EWS categories. The alleged massive rigging in the marks and ranks, which has been pointed out by the aspirants, has increased the cut-off for reserved seats for marginalised students. All this has not happened in a day.

In the past decade, the Modi government has systematically sought to control every sphere of education — be it autonomous institutions like the NCERT, the UGC, the NTA, or even institutions of eminence such as the IIT, the IIM, and the FTII, among others. Universities, which are the fountainheads of idealism and dissent have been turned into mini-war zones where freedom of academics, researchers, and students have been mercilessly clamped upon by appointing mediocre acolytes from the Sangh parivar. No Indian university figures in the top 100 universities, globally.

The BJP, in its arrogance and hurry to control every institution, sought to colourise education, and then privatise it. Privatisation is good if done under proper regulation, but the BJP even failed to implement that. Private universities, often owned by either politicians or big corporations, are forced to navigate the hurdles of excessive regulation by the State. Manufacturers are not able to hire skilled workers. About 83 per cent of those skilled under the much-hyped ‘Skill India Mission’ did not get any placement. Even though almost 10 million graduates pass out every year, 42.3 per cent of graduates under the age of 25 years remain unemployed.

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections did not make a government, it made an Opposition. Now that the BJP’s political capital has severely diminished, its insecurity to control institutions must also be curtailed. The I.N.D.I.A. bloc, led by the Congress, has a significant part to play. Only then will our education and recruitment systems witness meaningful reforms.

(Rachit Seth is founder, Policy Briefcase, and works with the Congress.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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