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NEET-UG Paper Leak: Face-off between Government – Opposition

NEET-UG Paper Leak: Face-off between Government – Opposition

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NEW DELHI, June 28: The face-off between the government and the opposition over paper leaks escalated sharply on Friday when the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, walked into the well of the House with others to attract the attention of the Chairman, Jagdeep Dhankhar.

The act, intended to press the opposition’s demand for a discussion on the matter, sparked a sharp exchange between the two leaders. While Mr Dhankhar said he was “shocked and pained” and claimed that a Leader of the Opposition had never walked into the well before, Mr Kharge said he only did so because he was ignored despite raising his hands for 10 minutes, adding that the Chairman’s step-motherly behaviour towards the opposition had “tainted the history of the Indian Parliament.”

Amid demands for a discussion on the paper leaks – including that of NEET-UG, which has affected 24 lakh students – Mr Kharge, who is also the Congress president, trooped into the well of the House with other opposition members, prompting an acerbic attack from Mr Dhankhar.

“Today has become such a tainted day in the history of the Indian Parliament that the Leader of the Opposition has come to the well of the House. This has never happened before. I am pained, I am shocked. The Indian parliamentary tradition will deteriorate to such an extent that the Leader of the Opposition will come to the well, the Deputy Leader will come to the well,” the Vice President said in Hindi, before adjourning the Rajya Sabha till 2 pm.

When he was asked about his actions later, Mr Kharge said he was left with no choice because Mr Dhankhar had been ignoring him to “insult him.”

“This is actually the Chairman’s fault. I observed parliamentary rules and raised my hand for 10 minutes, but he did not look at me. That’s when I had to go in to attract his attention but he still did not look at me. When all the members came (into the well), I walked out, I did not even stay there. I tried to attract his attention, but he was only looking towards the treasury benches. When I raised my hand, he should have looked at me according to the rules, but he did what he did to ignore and insult me,” the Congress President claimed.

“The only other option I had was to start shouting from my seat. So, this is, I have to say, the fault of the Chairman… There has been such a big scam in the NEET exam, the paper has been leaked, lakhs of students are worried. We were only demanding a specific discussion and trying to raise the issues of the students,” he said in Hindi. In a post on X later, Mr Kharge also accused the Vice President of step-motherly behaviour towards the opposition.

Senior Congress Leader Jairam Ramesh also took to social media to counter Mr Dhankhar’s claim that this was the first time a Leader of the Opposition had walked into the well. Taking a dig at the BJP over its perceived closeness with former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who quit the party in 2022, Mr Ramesh wrote, “Memories are short especially when old rivals become new partners. On Aug 5 2019, the-then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad sat on the steps leading to the Chairman’s presiding seat – which is very much part of the Well. This was when the Bills to abolish Article 370 and downgrade the status of J&K from a full-fledged state to a UT were being introduced. I should know – I sat next to him.”

The fracas in the Rajya Sabha followed the adjournment of the Lok Sabha for the day. Despite the government indicating that it was ready for a discussion on the paper leaks in the NEET, UGC-NET and other exams, the House was adjourned, initially till noon and then until Monday.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is now the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, hit out at the government and said it was running away from a discussion on an issue that he termed a “disaster.”

Addressing students who appeared for NEET and plan to sit for any other competitive exam, Mr Gandhi said in a video message, “There’s been a disaster as far as NEET is concerned. Everybody knows that the paper was leaked, people made thousands of crores of rupees and the students were hurt and damaged. The students studied for years; it is their dream, their aspiration to enter the medical field and this has been destroyed and ridiculed.”

The Congress leader said he had brought up the issue at the opposition meeting on Thursday and it was unanimously decided that a one-day discussion on NEET was required. The opposition, he said, was committed to having that discussion peacefully and in an accommodating manner.

“I tried to raise it in Parliament. As you saw, I wasn’t allowed to speak. This is an issue that has affected 2 crore students, papers have been leaked 70 times in seven years. It is clear that there is a systemic problem and that there is a huge amount of corruption. The students want a resolution quickly, and this was the idea behind the discussion. Crores and crores of people and their family members are in pain, they don’t know what is going to happen in the future, and they want clarity,” Mr Gandhi stressed.

Claiming that the Prime Minister did not want a debate, the Congress leader said the opposition was not looking for a fight with the government, but wants to put its views on the table. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the government was ready for a discussion and has already stated it will take strict action against anyone who is found guilty.

(Manas Dasgupta)


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