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Why is the Congress 'leader of the youth' silent

By T V R Shenoy
Last updated on: June 21, 2011 20:23 IST
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One can easily understand just why Rahul Gandhi chooses to dance away from the minefield that is the ongoing brouhaha over the Lokpal Bill. But why is he silent on issues that specifically concern young men and women? asks T V R Shenoy.

The 'Leader of the Youth' is now 41 years old. In a few years -- assuming Congress calculations work out -- taxpayer money could be wasted on advertisements hailing the date.

Until that happy day comes, may one ask what exactly he is doing for India's youth? (Lay aside the fact that 41 is not exactly 'youth' in a nation where half the population is under 25!)

One can easily understand just why Rahul Gandhi chooses to dance away from the minefield that is the ongoing brouhaha over the Lokpal Bill.

But why is he silent on issues that specifically concern young men and women?

Of late there was much ado about one particular college in the University of Delhi, the Shri Ram College of Commerce, keeping the cut-off at 100 percent for admission. That was blown out of proportion.

The 100 percent cutoff was for a specific course -- SRCC's coveted commerce (honours) -- and not for all of them. It applied only to students who had appeared for the science stream in the class XII examinations rather than to all and sundry. And that 100 percent would never have been possible if grade inflation were not such a problem in the class XII examinations.

What are Rahul Gandhi's views on the matter?

Part of the problem is that the University of Delhi is one of the few decent undergraduate institutions in this country when it comes to the humanities or commerce streams. Its examinations are conducted more or less on schedule, it maintains a certain level of education, and, being a central university, keeps its doors open to students from all across India. Even so, of the roughly 80 colleges under the aegis of the university there are only a few that stand out, and these are obviously the most sought after.

Let me also point out that Delhi University does not rate very highly in Academic Ranking of World Universities rankings or the QS World University Rankings, or the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (the three that are cited most often). India's problem is that almost all its other universities are worse.

The government of India is essentially out of cash, so there is no point in suggesting that it throw money at the problem by setting up new universities. There is an inbuilt reluctance in allowing private players into the field because there is a belief that education should not be a profit-making industry. And the number of applicants grows each year.

Does Rahul Gandhi support the entry of private players? Does he back a chain of vocational-training institutions on the lines favoured by Germany? Or does he think the problem will go away if he keeps quiet until the media find another story?

Speaking of colleges, let me come to a second problem, this time in my home state. Is there any place for meritorious students in Kerala's medical colleges?

Last year the institutions adhering to the Medical College Management Association signed an agreement with the Achuthanandan ministry in which they agreed that 50 percent of the seats would be allotted on merit (the government quota). It seems that the reigning United Democratic Front ministry has taken a step back from that position.

The Inter-Church Educational Council runs four such institutions, namely Amala, Jubilee Mission, Kolenchery MOSC, and Pushpagiri. These have reportedly decided that they shall use their own procedures to fill all their allotted seats. Entirely predictably this has gone down none too well with the rest of the medical colleges in Kerala.

Fazal Gafoor, the head of the Muslim Education Society, puts it bluntly: "There cannot be one set of rules for us and another for them. If the government can allow the Inter-Church Educational Council to continue with denial of social justice, why should we alone admit students from the government quota?"

The Muslim League has more MLAs than the Kerala Congress. This means we may assume that Fazal Gafoor's justified indignation shall not be easily silenced. But if every medical college decides to go its own merry way what happens to students who have only merit to commend them?

Does Rahul Gandhi support allowing faith-based foundations to run colleges as they wish? All in the sacred name of 'minority rights' of course!

The third instance is almost trivial compared to the situation in Delhi and in Kerala. The government of Maharashtra has decided that the legal age for consuming alcohol should be 25. This has been challenged in a Public Interest Litigation by the actor Imran Khan.

The young actor points out that there is no logic to the decision. If an Indian citizen living in Maharashtra can vote at 18 and marry at 21, why must they must wait for their first tipple?

Prohibition is one of those policies that has never worked yet nobody wants to do away with it. This could be because of sincere distaste for alcohol -- which is fine -- and a desire to impose that dislike on others -- which is not so fine. Or could it be because it is so profitable both for bootleggers and for the officials they bribe to look away? This latest step by the government of Maharashtra will do nothing to curb alcohol abuse but it will definitely expand the bootleggers' potential market.

It is also, of course, a slur on the youth of Maharashtra, tacitly saying that they cannot be trusted to hold their drink. And Rahul Gandhi, once again, is keeping his thoughts on the subject bottled up.

This seems to be standard operating procedure for the big guns of the Congress. When was the last time that you heard Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, or (definitely last in the Congress's unofficial hierarchy) Dr Manmohan Singh hold forth on the issues of the day?

But even if the (64-year-old) Congress president and the (78-year-old) prime minister are set in their ways should we not expect better of the 'Leader of the Youth'? Doubly so when those issues primarily concern the youth of India?

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T V R Shenoy