Modi’s New Government Confronts Protests Over India Exam

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing his first challenge after forming the government as a national entrance exam for admission to India’s medical colleges sparked outrage over allegations of corruption.

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Some 2.4 million students took the exam this year to get admissions for over 100,000 seats in state-run and private medical colleges. However, there were allegations of cheating and leaking of question papers after an unusual number of high scores. The controversy has left hundreds of thousands of aspiring doctors uncertain about their futures amid a severe jobs crisis.

The sudden surge in high scores is unnatural, said Alakh Pandey, founder and CEO of edtech firm Physics Wallah. “Students have invested years working hard for this, sometimes taking gap years to achieve their dreams,” he said in an emailed statement. “This scam has not only crushed their morale but also disheartened their parents.”

On Thursday, the Supreme Court sought responses from the government and the National Testing Agency on petitions seeking scrapping of the 2024 exam and a probe, the Press Trust of India reported. The exam was conducted last month and the results announced on June 4, the same day as the outcome of national polls, which returned Modi to power for a rare third term, albeit with a reduced majority.

Another entrance test had its results scrapped after an inquiry revealed that the exam paper was available on the “dark net”, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at a press conference Thursday. The government will be forming a high-level committee to determine the proper process for tests, he added.

Opposition parties have sought clarifications from the government on allegations of question-paper leaks, irregularity in grading and cheating. India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, will hold protests on Friday and on June 24, when parliament is slated to hold its first session after formation of the new government. The Modi government denied all allegations and said it “is committed to ensure the sanctity of examinations and protect the interest of students, according to a statement.

The alleged scandal comes even as the world’s most-populous nation struggles to provide enough jobs to its 1.4 billion people despite expanding at a rapid pace. While India is expected to grow more than 7% this year — among the fastest in the world — it is not creating enough jobs, a fact pointed out by opposition parties. A study shows that Asia’s third-largest economy needs to create 115 million jobs by 2030 as more people enter the workforce.

Amid mounting pressure, the National Testing Agency canceled grades for some students and announced plans for their re-examination on June 23. The police in the western state of Gujarat and the eastern state of Bihar have made a few arrests in the matter.

The government has to keep the interests of all the students in mind and is addressing isolated incidents of cheating, said Pradhan.

--With assistance from Shruti Srivastava, Swati Gupta and Vrishti Beniwal.

(Updates with government response in fifth and last paragraphs.)

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