A potentially explosive battle over admission to medical courses is brewing in Tamil Nadu, where DMK chief MK Stalin today led a protest against the Governor's delay in signing a bill that reserves 7.5 per cent of seats for government school students.
The bill was passed by the state Assembly on September 15 but the BJP Government appointed Governor Banwarilal Purohit has asked for extra time - three to four weeks - to decide on signing off on the legislation. In his reply to Mr Stalin on this subject, the Governor said he was "getting it examined from all angles".
However, MK Stalin, who is also Leader of the Opposition, has warned that any delay could scuttle the prospects of around 300 government school students who cleared the NEET (National Eligibility, Entrance Test) - a qualifying exam for admission to undergraduate medical courses.
In his letter to the Governor Mr Stalin said: "I urge you to immediately give assent to the bill and help fulfill the dream of government school students to pursue medicine as their profession".
Visuals from today's protest showed hundreds gathered in a designated area close to the Governor's official residence - Raj Bhavan - albeit without heed to social distancing during the Covid pandemic.
Apart from the question of reservation, the issue is also snowballing into a face-off between the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK - particularly with elections now just months away.
Mr Stalin today hit out at the AIADMK for "not cooperating". The DMK chief had urged the ruling party to put pressure on the Governor but Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami refused.
MK Stalin is seeking political mileage through these protests, the Chief Minister has said, expressing confidence that the Governor, who was appointed by the BJP, which is allied with AIADMK in the southern state, will eventually give his assent to the bill.
The Chief Minister then criticised Mr Stalin for his letter to the Governor, calling it an "attempt to create an illusion that he is responsible" for ensuring reservations for government school students. The Chief Minister also hit out at the opposition and its ally, the Congress, for "introducing" NEET.
For nearly a decade Tamil Nadu resisted using NEET results for admission to medical colleges in the state. Successive governments argued NEET favours the affluent - who can afford private coaching - and is against the poor and those from rural backgrounds.
This year, as NEET was held over fears amid the Covid pandemic, at least 13 Tamil Nadu students died by suicide after either failing to clear the exam or over fear of not doing so.
With the state due for polls in seven months, Mr Stalin said today that NEET had become "a sacrificial altar". "It has made education a corporate company, private coaching centres charging lakhs," he said.
With input from PTI