NEET spark will lead to a bigger student movement, says NSUI president

‘Minister of education took a stand for the testing agency, rather than the students. They are protecting NTA,’ says Varun Choudhary.

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Varun Choudhary, National President, National Students Union of India (NSUI)Varun Choudhary, National President, National Students Union of India (NSUI)

Sheena Sachdeva | July 9, 2024 | 02:09 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Varun Choudhary, national president of National Students Union of India (NSUI), Congress' student wing, spoke to Careers360 about the recent NEET debacle, alleged saffronisation of university spaces and its further plans on outreach in universities. Choudhary said he was summoned by Delhi Police on July 7 after NSUI’s protests demanding a Re-NEET.

Q. NSUI has been constantly protesting against NEET. What are your demands?

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A. Firstly, I would like to state that we are not politicising the issue. On June 4, after the NEET results were declared, I had mentioned in my press conference that the problem should be referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or some judicial inquiry should look into it because if the National Testing Agency (NTA) carries out an investigation on its own, it is of no use. However, between June 4 and 10, several arrests were made by the CBI and there were revelations, including Gujarat and Bihar police making some arrests. This clarified further that the exam was compromised. Hence, we demanded that there should be a Re-NEET examination.

National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) is a centralised exam and the timeframe is very important, where you cannot linger on. I met almost a thousand students, and most are demanding a Re-NEET. They are of the opinion that even if one centre is compromised, the paper gets compromised and it impacts everyone’s results.

However, education minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said during his press conference that the examination had no scam. He said that there was just one problem with the grace marks and “we shall rectify it”. This was shocking for us.

Just the next day a student from Bihar reportedly confirmed that he received the paper but there was no statement from the education minister. We realise that NTA as a body is compromised and we demand that it should be banned. In my 10-12 years of student politics, this is the first time that I have seen a minister of education taking a stand for the testing agency, rather than the students. They are protecting NTA and overlooking the plight of students.

In the second press conference, the minister had announced that the government was forming a committee, and it’s been 24-25 days since. Why is the process so slow? On June 19, the University Grants Commission–National Eligibility Test (UGC- NET) was cancelled and NEET PG was postponed. This shows that NTA is not capable of conducting exams.

Overall, we have three major demands. First, we demand that Re-NEET be conducted immediately. After speaking with students it has come to the fore that not one, but many centres have been compromised. Second, NTA is compromised and they cannot conduct a paper properly, and NEET 2024 isn’t the first one. For example, during CUET [Common University Entrance Test], students suffer either due to incorrect centres or centres that are far off. Even people from my own family have gone through this ordeal. Many students chose a nearby centre but were allotted far-off centres. And third, we feel that removing the director is not a solution. Neither was any step taken against NTA nor has any concrete decision been taken yet, and the minister of education must take responsibility for this. Either he should resign or the prime minister should ask for his resignation.

Q. You have opposed the Agneepath scheme as well. Why?

A. Whenever a scheme or policy is made, consultations are taken from a specific fraternity and then eventually a scheme is implemented.

When the Agnipath scheme came, there was no discussion, and no opposition leader was kept in the loop. Nationwide protests happened in 2022, students were also jailed for just protesting. All these voices were suppressed.

However, the irony is that this scheme was brought by a 70-year-old prime minister who is saying that the youth should retire within four to five years of their tenure. Due to this, the craze among students to appear for army examinations has deteriorated to a level where thousands of coaching institutes have closed. A scheme is introduced for citizens’s benefit or to inculcate more interest in nation building through armed forces.

Q. What is the mandate of NSUI after the Lok Sabha election?

A. As a Congress party student body, we will keep working towards our ideology. We will also take up student issues in Congress-led states. Now after the results, students from across the country see the National Students Union of India (NSUI) as a ray of hope where they want us to address their issues. Many students are also interested in joining NSUI and working with us.

Q. In the last few years, NSUI has lost its ground across university campuses in India. What’s your strategy to regain the ground? Will you jointly contest elections with other student unions?

A. Though we got one seat in the Delhi University Student Union elections, the concern is that most central or state university elections across states have been banned. These include Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University and many others. Many student candidates who have chaired leadership positions in unions are now joining NSUI from across central universities.

Further, other than DUSU, college-wise students representatives will be joining NSUI in the next few days. We are sure NSUI will win with thumping numbers and regain its ground in the coming student elections across the country.

Also, I don’t think we need any alliances with other student unions as of now. However, closer to the elections we might decide.

Q. What challenges has NSUI faced in the last few years?

A. Back in 2016, in Jawaharlal Nehru University, chaos happened when Kanhaiya Kumar was JNUSU president, they worked with NSUI to get a mandate. Despite the ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, affiliated to the BJP] sidelining us, we have been constantly supporting students. However, I feel that the media is the main culprit behind the bad image of NSUI. They have created fake videos accusing us with false charges.

Recently, before the Lok Sabha Election 2024, BJP froze our accounts. The first one was of NSUI’s savings account which had around Rs 2 crore collected through membership fees of Rs 10 per student over the years. This was in February. Many lakhs of students joined the union. Through this we disburse the salaries of the members, organise events and do outreach on the ground.

Further, many FIRs have been filed against NSUI state office bearers. In the last 10 years, 20-25 FIRs have been lodged against these office bearers, including Satyam Kushwaha and Akhilesh Yadav who are NSUI office bearers. And these students have no political or money power, rather come from rural backgrounds. Even today, DUSU members have filed an FIR against me in Civil Lines police station in response to our complaint of DUSU president Tushar Dedha holding two fake marksheets– one from CBSE and another from Uttar Pradesh board.

These FIRs build up pressure. And these office bearers are students between the age of 25-30 who face legal and police trials which directly impact their families. Largely, 95% students in NSUI are from poor backgrounds, farming and others.

This is a constant struggle.

Q. What’s your take on academic freedom and free speech across educational campuses?

A. BJP and ABVP have targeted universities because they think students won't accept their ideologies. We want to ensure that we stand with every student of this country. We will stand with ABVP as well, if any of their students is targeted. But if they are the perpetrators of violence, we will take strict action. Further, OBC, Dalit and Adivasi students have been marginalised. PhD students from these communities have been targeted and scholarships for students from these communities have been stopped. We want to ensure that no student faces such marginalisation.

Further, now the government has also started targeting reservations in universities. But we want the rights of students to be upheld.

Our Chandigarh University election manifesto mentioned menstrual leave and it has been eventually implemented. We have also kept a demand for menstrual leave across all universities in India.

Q. Why does the NSUI oppose the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020?

A. When this policy came, we protested because we were aware that through this policy, the government wanted to privatise education. But it's difficult for people and students to understand its impact. The rampant increase in fees is also causing a big problem. Other than privatisation, the government is repeatedly trying to instil fear and hatred-based politics among students, but has failed.

At Delhi University, the political recruitment of professors who are incapable of teaching properly will harm students overall. In the last two years, 40 such professors have been recruited who have been office bearers of ABVP. The stature of the curriculum has decreased to a level that students don't want to take admission in Delhi University anymore. There used to be seminars on public policy but now discussions revolve around RSS.

Q. Where do you think the current student protests are leading?

A. On June 4, when the NEET 2024 results were declared, there was an option that the government could either choose students or the corrupt NTA and its ministers. And they chose their ministers. Now it's the choice of students to reject or accept their policies and ideologies.

We have a roadmap that on July 22, when university campuses open, we will go to each one of them and speak with thousands of students so that they all come out on the streets to protest.

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