No politics over NEET in Odia, please!

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By Sandeep Sahu

After Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, it is now the turn of Union Petroleum minister and BJP’s supposed Chief Ministerial face Dharmendra Pradhan to jump on to the ‘NEET in Odia’ bandwagon. In a letter to Union Health minister JP Nadda, Pradhan has urged him to include Odia as one of the vernacular languages for the all-India medical entrance test conducted by CBSE.

On the face of it, the demand for inclusion of Odia is unexceptionable. After all, why should Odia be deprived when six other regional languages have been included as a medium for the examination? But a closer scrutiny of the spirited espousal of the Odia cause by the two leaders reveals that more than an opportunity for students wishing to write their answers in their mother tongue, what they were looking for is an opportunity to score some political brownie points.

For the Chief Minister and BJD supremo, it’s a perfect case of ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’. If the Centre accepts his demand, he and his party can crow about the ‘victory’ and sell it to the people as yet another example of the ruling party’s commitment to the cause of Odisha in the run up to the panchayat elections. If it doesn’t, he can cite it as yet another instance of ‘central neglect’ that he has never tired of complaining about. The letter written by the Chief Minister to the Prime Minister in this regard also has the added advantage of glossing over the Odisha government’s failure to make a case for Odia earlier. The medium of examination was clearly mentioned as English and there was no mention of Odia in the letter (No 15767) written by GG Debata, additional secretary in the department of Health & Family Welfare in the Govt of Odisha, to the Centre on July 27, 2016, as rightly pointed out by the state BJP.

As for Pradhan, even a cursory look at the letter he has written to Nadda makes it clear that more than making a case for Odia in NEET, he was interested in taking potshots at the Odisha government and the ruling party. “Though the decision to this effect was taken by your Ministry through an elaborate consultative process, the government of Odisha did not avail of the opportunities in articulating the aspirations of the students from the state,” he said in the letter. In writing to the Centre on the issue now, the Odisha government is trying to ‘cover up’ its failure to make a case for it earlier when the consultative process was on, he alleged.

Would the absence of Odia as a language option really affect the chances of students from Odisha to the extent Patnaik and Pradhan seem to suggest? Ask a few NEET aspirants about it and chances are they would laugh off the demand for inclusion of Odia as a medium for the examination. Assuming that the Health ministry does accept Odisha’s demand, how many students are actually going to take the examination in the Odia medium? Negligible, if students and teachers are to be believed. After all, the medium of instruction at the Plus Two level even in colleges affiliated to the Council of Higher Secondary Education (CHSE), in which students passing out of Odia medium schools constitute an overwhelming majority, is English. Hence, it is highly unlikely that they would opt for Odia to appear the test in. Besides, the coinage of appropriate Odia words for scientific and medical terms is still a work in progress. So, those who opt for Odia to take the examination would actually be at a great disadvantage instead of the other way round, as claimed by the Chief Minister.

Pointing all this out is not aimed at making a case for non-inclusion of Odia in the NEET test. By all means, Odia – as also other regional languages that have been left out – should be included as a medium of examination even if it benefits only a handful of students. But what is unacceptable is the attempt to seek political capital out of an emotive issue. If the Chief Minister is really concerned about the cause of Odia, his government should first implement the decision to use the language in ALL official communication and work that he himself announced with such great fanfare in his Independence Day address this year. He would also do well to start doing what he has stubbornly refused to do all these years – learn Odia. Together, these two measures would do more to refurbish his pro-Odia credentials and win the lasting gratitude of the people than the politically inspired cribbing over the exclusion of Odia in the NEET test.

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