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15 April 2016 Editorial


15 APRIL 2016 

Reviving a good idea

It was a good idea in the first place, but unfortunately it did not survive judicial scrutiny. By recalling a three-judge Bench’s 2013 order striking down the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) and agreeing to hold a fresh hearing on a review petition by the Medical Council of India, the Supreme Court has now revived the idea of holding a national test to ascertain the aptitude and suitability of those seeking to study medicine anywhere in the country. Introduced in 2010 through amendments to existing regulations relating to medical and dental admissions, NEET had a few laudable objectives: saving students the trouble of writing multiple entrance examinations to medical courses in State-run and private institutions, curbing the increasing commercialisation of higher education in medicine, and ensuring a transparent admission process in private, unaided institutions which thrive on selling MBBS and postgraduate medical specialty seats to the highest bidder. However, it encountered opposition from two influential quarters. One, State governments were upset with the implicit centralisation of medical education in the idea of a national test. They feared that NEET would undermine their reservation policy. Some like Tamil Nadu see all entrance tests as elitist and against the interests of poor and rural students. And two, private institutions, especially those established by minorities, were against any interference in their admission process, arguing that their unfettered right to regulate their own admissions had been upheld by an 11-judge Supreme Court Bench in T.M.A. Pai Foundation (2002). When the institutions approached the Supreme Court, a three-judge Bench, by a two-one majority, agreed with them that the regulations introducing NEET violated their constitutional rights.

The dissenting voice of Mr. Justice A.R. Dave, who ruled that NEET could be conducted to regulate admissions without impinging on minority rights or breaching the reservation norms of various States, was in a lost cause then. His reasoning had great force: NEET merely creates a national pool of eligible candidates from among whom colleges and institutions were free to select those belonging to any preferred minority group or any reserved category. In a curious turn of events, Mr. Justice Dave now heads the Constitution Bench that will revisit the entire case. The Bench has said the majority in the earlier verdict had not followed binding precedents and pronounced a hasty order without internal discussion among the judges. The recall of the earlier judgment even before the review has been fully heard has created some confusion. NEET may be back in place, and it is possible that it could be held at least for postgraduate medical admissions this year. However, NEET’s validity has not yet been upheld. States which had obtained the interim stay against NEET may believe that they are still entitled to go ahead with the present admission process. The legal position in such States requires clarification. An early disposal of the review petition is needed both to put in place a free and transparent admission process and to eliminate any confusion.

The waning of the pink tide 

Keiko Fujimori’s victory in the first round of the presidential poll in Peru and the relegation of leftist candidate Veronika Mendoza to third place means that the former is set to face right- wing candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the final run-off on June 5. Ms. Fujimori’s father Alberto had ruled Peru in the 1990s, his reign known for repressive measures against the political opposition. Ms. Fujimori has promised a break from her father’s notorious past while seeking to resuscitate his right-wing populism, if elected to power to succeed former President Ollanta Humala. The run-off between Ms. Fujimori and Mr. Kuczynski is yet another setback for the left in Latin America after years of political ascendancy in the 2000s, marking what was termed the “rise of the pink tide” in the continent. The socialist regime in Venezuela lost a parliamentary election against the centre-right opposition; the Peronists led by Cristina Fernández had to relinquish power to right-wing forces in Argentina last year; and Evo Morales, possibly the most popular Latin American leader, lost a referendum on whether he could retain power for a fourth term in Bolivia. Meanwhile, impeachment proceedings have already begun against President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, following street protests against corruption involving the Workers’ Party-led government.

In the early 2000s, a series of mass mobilisations and upsurges gave rise to either new leftists (the Bolivarian socialists in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia), or social democratic regimes (the Workers’ Party in Brazil) or populist governments (Argentina under the Kirchners). These were a reaction to a social and economic environment controlled by elites who undertook skewed economic policies, exacerbating economic inequality and poverty. The loss of popularity for the left has country-specific reasons, but the common current has been the inability of regimes to go beyond statism or dependence on welfarism fuelled by natural resource extraction and related commodity production. This is especially seen in the difficulty the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela faces in weaning the country away from its dependence on petroleum extraction, and the malfeasance in Brazil in the running of its natural resources sector. Demand shortfalls in the global market have resulted in export downturns and a crisis in the oil sector which in Venezuela have led to macroeconomic problems. The charisma of leaders such as the late Hugo Chávez and Lula da Silva may have helped their regimes garner support from varied segments of society, but their successors have been unable to match their popularity or political cunning. In the face of the reverses suffered by the left-leaning regimes and the growing influence of the centre-right, the former need to make an honest re-evaluation of the efficacy of their strategies and their record in power. Any recalibration in their strategy must be based on policies that are neither shaped nor overly dependent on a commodity boom, leave alone individual charisma.

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