Sonia musters seven CMs' support against Centre over NEET, JEE exams

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi seeks to unite Opposition parties in deferring exams.
Days after the charge by some members in the Congress that the party needed a more active leadership, interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi got seven Opposition chief ministers (CMs) on one platform to accuse the Centre of being insensitive to the concerns of state governments.

The CMs are likely to file a review petition against the Supreme Court (SC) order that the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) must be held as scheduled, while noting that the Centre had failed to do so and was not bothered about the health crisis holding such examinations could cause. The examinations are due in September. The CMs also lambasted the Centre for withholding the goods and services tax (GST) compensation. What the CMs said is as significant as the orientation of the parties they represented. Congress-ruled states like Punjab, Puducherry, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan were naturally present. But in what was a political coup, Sonia managed to rope in West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee. In the past, Mamata has stayed away from invitations from the Congress to attend such meetings. Unsurprisingly, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who presides over a Left Front government and is bitterly critical of Mamata and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, stayed away, although Kerala is in agreement with many of the issues raised at the meeting. So did Delhi 
CM and chief of Aam Aadmi Party, Arvind Kejriwal.

Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray also attended the meeting. Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, who has made common cause with Mamata on several issues in the past, was a notable omission. Telangana CM Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) and Andhra Pradesh CM Yeduguri Sandinti Jaganmohan Reddy did not attend.

The meeting was focused on the Centre’s handling of Covid-19, but avoided direct comment on rising infections because after autonomy to state governments given by the Centre, they themselves would be culpable. Instead, CMs trained their guns on the secondary management of the impact of the pandemic: the issue of entrance examinations for professional institutions (NEET and JEE); and the sharing of GST compensation, given that a GST Council meeting is due on August 27.

 

 
In her opening remarks, Sonia noted that while the responsibility of managing the pandemic had been passed on to the state governments, the money to fund the health emergency had not been forthcoming. She referred to the statement by the finance secretary a few days ago at a parliamentary standing committee that the Centre was not in a position to give 14 per cent GST compensation to the states and said this was nothing short of betrayal. She expressed grave concern at the National Education Policy and wondered at the impact it would have on all levels of education.

Uddhav said the example of the US, where schools had been opening leading to a huge spike in infection was before India, as was the wanton disregard of the Centre of this aspect. “We have to decide whether we want to fear or fight the government. The people who elected the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre also elected all of us. But if we do something, it is paap (sin), and if they do anything, it is punya (virtue).”

He pointed out that while his state was gradually emerging from the lockdown, schools remained shut. “Opposition CMs should speak louder as the central government is trying to suppress our voice. We should decide whether we have to fight or fear the Centre,” said Uddhav.

Velu Narayanasamy of Puducherry said infections will rise if entrance exams are permitted. “The exams are in September. Why should the lives of students be put at risk? We have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but there has been no response,” said Mamata. Backing Mamata, Sonia said, “Students’ problems and exam issues were being dealt with uncaringly by the Centre.”

GST compensation was an issue flagged strongly. Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab) said the state had already spent Rs 500 crore in managing the pandemic and had received no resources from the Centre. “Punjab’s financial situation was dire,” he said.

Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) said no GST compensation had been received by the state for the past four months.

Opposition parties have decided to plead before the SC together that holding the examinations would be a grave health danger. Meanwhile, Karnataka has announced it is opening colleges, while Tamil Nadu Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan has asked the central government to scrap the NEET and JEE exams — or at least defer them for the students from this state.



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