In a recent incident, DMK workers, led by Virugambakkam’s MLA Prabhakar Raja and a member of the party’s youth wing, forcibly entered a government high school for women near the fish market in KK Nagar. The visit was part of the Anti-NEET campaign, where the workers pressured adolescent students to sign a memorandum while making disparaging remarks against Prime Minister Modi and his government.
The action of the DMK leader has come under intense scrutiny, with critics accusing them of coercing government school students to endorse their anti-NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) campaign.
DMK’s History with NEET
Prior to the 2021 assembly polls, DMK’s primary political focus was obtaining an exemption from NEET for Tamil Nadu students. Prominent party figures, including Udhayanidhi Stalin, made promises to voters regarding the issue, pledging to take decisive action.
However, after assuming power, the issue became a contentious topic, sparking debates among opposition parties, concerned parents, student organisations, and academia. In an attempt to divert attention, the DMK government appointed a one-man committee, Justice (retired) A K Rajan, to investigate the impact of NEET on socially disadvantaged aspirants seeking medical admissions in Tamil Nadu.
Recommendations of Justice A K Rajan’s Committee
Justice A K Rajan’s committee strongly recommended the elimination of the qualifying exam, asserting that NEET would take the state’s medical education back to pre-independence days. The committee called on the government to eliminate NEET through the required legal and legislative procedures. Alternatively, it suggested that the state government could pass an Act to highlight the necessity of removing NEET for medical education and secure the President’s assent.
This controversial incident has further fueled the ongoing debate surrounding NEET in Tamil Nadu, drawing both support and criticism for the DMK’s approach to the issue.
Governor Raises Legal Questions on Exemption Legislation
The state government’s attempt to seek an exemption from the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) faced a significant hurdle when Governor RN Ravi, upon receiving the legislation, sought clarifications and indicated that it could not be accepted in its present form.
The DMK and its political allies accused the governor of undue delay in processing the legislation. They organised media debates, and newspapers and magazines published editorials and columns placing blame on the central government.
Selective Memory and Historical Context
It is worth noting that the DMK conveniently overlooked or downplayed its role in the implementation of NEET during the UPA 2 government in 2010 when they were part of the alliance.
Upon the return of the legislation by the governor, the Stalin government passed the same bill without alterations in the State assembly and forwarded it to the governor for approval. Currently, the legislation is under the consideration of the President of India for her assent.
Critics argue that the DMK and its allies, possibly influenced by private medical colleges, are aware that obtaining an exemption from NEET is unlikely. Instead of approaching the Supreme Court, which has made NEET compulsory, they are accused of propagating misleading information, potentially leaving medical aspirants in a state of uncertainty and confusion.
Interestingly, the number of students from Tamil Nadu appearing for the NEET has been steadily increasing. This year, the state saw a record number of medical aspirants, with 1,47,581 candidates sitting for NEET in 2023, up from 1,42,286 the previous year.
Udhayanidhi Stalin Launches Anti-NEET Signature Campaign
Five days ago, Udhayanidhi Stalin, Minister and son of DMK President and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, initiated a signature campaign against the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), urging its withdrawal. The campaign was launched simultaneously with a DMK-organised hunger strike against NEET on August 20.
On October 22, DMK functionaries orchestrated a statewide signature campaign, with MK Stalin affixing the first signature. During the event, Udhayanidhi provided a comprehensive account of the NEET issue’s history and displayed an egg with “NEET” written on it, criticising the Central government’s decision to reduce the qualifying percentile for NEET PG to zero, implying it lacked merit.
Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin extended an invitation to the AIADMK, emphasising the need for unity on common issues. He stated, “I invited the AIADMK to join the fight against NEET. Today I reiterated that be part of this signature campaign.”
The DMK has been accused of capitalising on student suicides to create an image of being pro-student. A video shared by Sun News featured Fayazdeen, a friend of the deceased medical aspirant Jagadeeswaran, who revealed his NEET score of 160. He disclosed that he gained admission to a college owned by DMK MP Jagathrakshakan after his father paid Rs 25 lakhs. Jagathrakshakan’s premises were reportedly raided by the Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate, uncovering alleged tax evasion amounting to Rs 1,200 crores.
DMK’s Signature Campaign Strategy
DMK’s youth wing, students’ wing, and medical wing have been tasked with obtaining signatures from the public. In previous signature campaigns, party members themselves signed using both their right and left hands to reach their targets.
In a video shared on social media, the school’s headmaster addresses students, introducing the DMK’s anti-NEET campaign. He expresses concerns about the impact of the NEET exam on students’ medical aspirations, citing curriculum disparities.
The headmaster emphasises the DMK government’s continuous efforts to abolish NEET, highlighting the public statements made by Chief Minister MK Stalin, School Education Minister, and Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin against the exam.
The headmaster mentioned Udhayanidhi Stalin’s call for a signature campaign against NEET. However, when he questions the students about who has been addressing the issue in the headlines, the students appear perplexed, indicating a lack of awareness.
Frustrated by the students’ response, the headmaster urged them to stay informed about current events and watch the news, particularly referring to Udhayanidhi Stalin’s signature campaign against NEET.
MLA Prabhakar Raja takes the stage to reiterate the DMK’s stance, asserting that entrance exams like NEET should be abolished. He engages with the students, acknowledging their commerce-focused curriculum, which doesn’t cover the subjects required for NEET.
Raja criticises the growth of expensive coaching institutes that target NEET aspirants and highlights Tamil Nadu’s unique position as a state that vehemently opposes NEET. He underscores the State’s substantial contribution to medical facilities, with many foreign nationals seeking medical treatment in Tamil Nadu.
Social media activists express concern about the lack of communication from the Indian government’s education ministry, public relations department, or NEET exam agency. They point out the potential influence on young minds and the need for transparent communication on NEET-related matters.
BJP leader SG Surya, in a post on X condemned the MLA for forcibly obtaining students’ signature.
Journalist Ganesan criticises DMK’s alleged manipulation of NEET as a political tool to exert pressure on the young students into signing their petition. He condemns the practise of involving students in political agendas, citing previous issues like Hindi imposition. Ganesan emphasises the importance of safeguarding students’ educational interests and urges the DMK not to jeopardise their futures.
Members of the public question whether the school environment should be used as a political platform, expressing concerns about the influence on young minds. They query the permission granted for the DMK’s entry into a school classroom to conduct their anti-NEET campaign. Some also raise the issue of potential action against the headmaster for his negative comments about NEET. Hindu Munnani accuses the DMK government of imposing its ideologies on school curricula and related events.
In an unrelated incident, M Vinod, also known as Karukka Vinod, allegedly hurled crude bombs at Raj Bhavan. The motive behind the attack, as stated by the police, was Vinod’s dissatisfaction with the governor’s stance on the Anti-NEET bill. However, doubts surround the police theory, with questions raised about the individual’s background and intentions. Tamil Nadu BJP Chief Annamalai suggests that the ongoing attacks might indicate government sponsorship by the DMK, further fueling the controversy.