NEET UG 2024 controversy has become fodder for national politics. Here’s how

After the results of the exams were out and students pointed out discrepancies in marks, the matter was picked up by political parties who started demanding accountability from the government
How NEET UG snowballed into the movement it has become now
How NEET UG snowballed into the movement it has become now (Pic: EdexLive Desk)

On May 5, a few candidates walked out of an exam centre in Rajasthan during the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Exam for Undergraduate (NEET-UG) exam 2024 because they were given question papers that weren’t in the language of their choice. Subsequently, a retest was ordered for 120 candidates. 

However, nobody would have imagined this would be the least controversial event throughout NEET UG 2024. 

Two days after the examination, aspirants who wrote the examination took to social media to allege that the paper had been leaked one day before the exam – with several candidates and medical activists participating in an X storm demanding a retest on May 8. 

While the National Testing Agency (NTA) denied leaks of the question paper, more allegations of discrepancies during the exam have come out, such as the distribution of wrong papers, impersonation and cheating. 

The Bihar Police subsequently registered a First Investigation Report (FIR) and arrested 13 people — including four examinees. The case was then transferred to the Economic Offenses which revealed that the candidates involved were charged anything between Rs 30,00,000 to Rs 50,00,000 by middlemen in exchange for the papers. 

By then, medical aspirants, activists and leaders of doctors’ associations started demanding justice for the aspirants. A few of them even moved the Supreme Court and issued a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a stay on the results till the investigation is complete along with a a re-exam. 

On May 17, the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay on the result but agreed to issue notice to the exam conducting body NTA. A new petition was then filed on June 1 by the aspirants, with the help of medical activist Dr Vivek Pandey, demanding a thorough investigation into the paper leak allegations and a re-examination. 

And the results came out 

Things would stay relatively calm until June 4, when the NTA declared the results of NEET UG — and aspirants found huge discrepancies between their ranks and exam scores. Several students claimed that despite scoring high marks, their ranks remained pretty low. 

Moreover, it was found that about 67 students were awarded the perfect score of 720, and a few students even scored 719 and 718 marks, which were impossible to score due to NTA’s marking pattern for NEET.  

The NTA explained these scores as being due to grace marks allotted due to disturbances and loss of time during the exam. However, discontent continued to brew among aspirants, with their accusations of fraud only growing. 

Reflecting on the issue, Dr Vivek Pandey stated that he anticipated that something was amiss in the examination from the get-go. “Right from the time when students complained of discrepancies in the exam, I knew that something was wrong. My suspicions were confirmed when there were signs of a leak in the question paper, and 13 persons were arrested by the Bihar Police,” he told EdexLive

Here come the politicians 

Soon enough, the issue was picked up by politicians and political organisations alike, especially those in the Opposition. 

Politicians like Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from the Indian National Congress (INC), Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, and Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Jasmine Shah attacked the Central Government and the NTA over these allegations and demanded justice for the students. 

Rahul Gandhi, who is also slated to be the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, promised to be the “voice of the students” in Parliament. 

Soon enough, a flurry of petitions regarding the exam hit the Supreme Court and high courts, including Delhi and Calcutta, from students and student organisations, who also took to the streets in protest against the NTA. 

Protests begin...

Organisations such as the INC’s National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and the Left-backed All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Students’ Federation of India  (SFI) staged rallies and protests against the NTA, demanding an investigation into the allegations. 

Yagywalkya Shukla, National General Secretary of the ABVP says that these leaks are a detriment to the integrity of the NTA. “There is a sense of mistrust among students against the NTA, as such leaks and discrepancies have been occurring in every exam conducted by the agency in the past. We suspect that there is an exam mafia that is ruining the lives of many students through malpractices,” he explained. 

He adds that ABVP demands a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the issue. 

Echoing these sentiments, Anulekha Boosa, National General Secretary of NSUI, alleges the hand of “influential actors” in the issue. “Why did the NTA release the results ten days before the scheduled date, and conveniently on the day of the Lok Sabha election counting? How did six students from the same exam centre in Haryana top the exam?” she questions. 

She further assures that the Congres Party and its leaders would raise this issue in Parliament, after the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions resume on June 24. 

However, Dr Vivek Pandey says that politicians simply talking about the issue isn’t enough. 

“Be it the ruling party or the opposition, it is easy to mention an issue in a speech or an interview when it is trending for political gains. What is important is the action that follows. If the politicians want to help the students, they must pressurise the Bihar Police to release their investigation report, and help students who go to court with legal support and resources,” he explains.

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