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Why defence min chaired the GoM on Class 12 exams

New Delhi Defence minister Rajnath Singh was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to head the group of ministers (GoM) looking into the feasibility of conducting Class 12 examinations because of his stature as the government’s senior-most minister and cross-party acceptance, HT has learnt after speaking to two senior government officials
By Sunetra Choudhury
PUBLISHED ON MAY 25, 2021 12:14 AM IST

New Delhi Defence minister Rajnath Singh was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to head the group of ministers (GoM) looking into the feasibility of conducting Class 12 examinations because of his stature as the government’s senior-most minister and cross-party acceptance, HT has learnt after speaking to two senior government officials.

The GoM also comprises information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar and women and child development minister Smriti Irani, both former education ministers. Singh chaired a meeting on Sunday attended by education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, Irani, Prakash Javadekar. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) officials, education ministers of all states, education secretaries, and chairpersons of the state examination boards.

“It is an issue in which the Prime Minister himself is involved,’’ said Nishank. “It involves so many students in the country and so the PM asked Rajnathji also to sit, shows just how important this matter is for us,” he added. A decision on the issue is expected by June 1.

One of the officials quoted above said PM Modi chose Singh after consultations because he wanted not only his senior-most minister but also someone who had experience in this area.

Singh first became education minister in 1991 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed its first government in Uttar Pradesh. Singh held the portfolio for two years and in 1992, brought in the anti-copying act that made cheating a non-bailable offence and allowed police to come into examination halls to conduct raids.

“The biggest concern for the government was that it should be attended by all states,’’ said a second official. ``Rajnath Singh has great acceptance across party lines and that’s another reason why he was chosen. In seniority, he is the topmost minister.’’

Both the officials quoted above said choosing Singh had paid off as all Opposition party ministers attended the event and the meeting reached a broad consensus of holding the board exams, albeit truncated. Even Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia, who had objections, listed them cordially.

Nishank’s office said fielding Singh didn’t undermine the education minister, who is yet to fully recover from Covid. “On this issue of exams, the PM previously held a meeting so there is no question of us chairing when Rajnathji is there,’’ said an official from Nishank’s office.

The official pointed out that Singh and Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, who holds the state education portfolio, both praised Nishank’s initiative to conduct this process even though he was ill.

At Sunday’s meeting, Singh’s intervention was limited to telling all attendees to speak briefly so that they wouldn’t go over time. In his concluding remarks, he told all states to give their opinion in writing, which is expected to be collated in a day or two, before the government arrives at its final decision.

Singh was also the behind-the-scenes negotiator for the government during the farmer protests earlier this year. While commerce minister Piyush Goyal and agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar were officially speaking to the farmers, Singh was meeting with key farmer leaders at his residence.

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