Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday once again appealed to the Centre to listen to students who have raised concerns over holding national entrance exams for engineering and medical courses in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

A controversy has erupted over the Centre’s decision to not postpone the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test and Joint Entrance Examination, despite demands from students and political organisations to defer tests in view of the coronavirus crisis. While the JEE is scheduled from September 1 to 6, the NEET exam is scheduled to take place on September 13.

In a video message for students, Gandhi said she understood the plight of students who are in a “very difficult situation”. “The issue of your exams, of when they should be held and where, is the most important issue not only for you but your family too,” she added.

The Congress leader said students were the future of the country and therefore, any decision regarding their future must be taken with their concurrence. “I hope the government listens to you [the students], listens to your voices and acts upon your wishes,” she added. “This is my advice to the government.”

Gandhi’s message came hours after six states ruled by Opposition parties – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Punjab and Maharashtra – moved the Supreme Court seeking postponement of the examinations The states filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement earlier this month, which rejected a plea for such postponement.

Earlier in the day, the Congress launched a nationwide protest against the conduct of the exams. “Unite your voice with lakhs of suffering students,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted. “#SpeakUpFor StudentSafety...Let’s make the government listen to the students.”

The Congress accused the government of putting the health of students at risk by forcing them to sit for examinations during a pandemic. “Students have been stressed out,” the party said in the video. “During such times, the Congress stands with the students and we are speaking up for their safety.”

In a separate video message, Rahul Gandhi added that the safety of students should not be compromised because of the “failures of the government”. “The government must listen to all stakeholders and arrive at a consensus,” he added.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi said that at a time when the coronavirus cases are on the rise, it is necessary for the government to listen to the demands of students and parents. “These children are the future of the country,” she added. “The concerns of students have to be viewed sensitively and not stubbornly and politically.”

Meanwhile, Delhi Congress leaders and workers, including its chief Anil Kumar, were detained by the police near the Shastri Bhavan on Friday during a protest against holding the examinations, PTI reported. The Congress leaders were taken to the Mandir Marg Police Station, Kumar said.

“The Centre and its education ministry are endangering the lives of 25 lakh students by being adamant on holding the JEE and NEET when the number of coronavirus cases is going up in the country,” Kumar said. “We are only requesting the [Narendra] Modi government and its education ministry to postpone the two exams for some days till the Covid-19 situation is under control.”

Kumar said it is unfortunate that the Centre is refusing to reconsider its decision despite opposition from many states as well as students and their parents.

But Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal claimed on Thursday that the ministry has received emails from many parents and students in support of conducting the exams in the month of September and not postponing them further. The minister’s statement did not have any supporting figures as to the number of emails that the ministry has received.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, said the Centre is risking the lives of the students by being adamant on holding the entrance exams, PTI reported.