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Man attempts immolation, docs' stir on

24-year-old Rishi from East Delhi was rushed to hospital after he tried to set himself afire at a major anti-quota rally.

india Updated: May 28, 2006 11:10 IST

It was meant to be a show of strength by the medicos protesting against the OBC quota proposal. And the Dilli Aao, Desh Bachao rally at the Ramlila ground on Saturday evening went according to plan — till a person attempted self-immolation outside the venue.

Rishi Raj Gupta, a 24-year-old gutka seller from Shahdara, was saved by policemen and admitted to the LNJP hospital with 30-40 per cent burns. His condition was said to be stable.

The medicos made it clear that Gupta was not in their plans. MAMC RDA member Jitendra Singhla said, "This man was not part of our rally and we’ve no idea why he tried to immolate himself."

Even as this was being investigated, news of another self-immolation attempt came in — this time from Cuttack in Orissa. A PG student of SCB Medical College and Hospital, Surendra Mohanty, who was at the forefront of the agitation on the campus there, was saved by his friends. But it could not be confirmed whether it was related to the quota issue.

At the rally, the medicos got the desired response as more than 10,000 people, including students from other cities, pledged support to the agitation. The doctors said they would continue with their strike, making it clear the PM’s assurance on increasing educational opportunities had no effect on them. They stuck to the demands for a non-political panel to review the quota policy and exclusion of the creamy layer.

Students' show of strength

In a show of strength against the Government on OBC reservation, striking doctors and medical students held the "Dilli Aao Desh Bachao" protest rally in Delhi which was attended by scores of anti-reservation activists from across the country.

Waving placards and raising anti-government, anti-quota slogans 'Abolish Reservation' and 'Down with Reservation', thousands of protestors from several cities, under the aegis of Youth for Equality, paraded from Veerbhoomi and converged at the Ramlila Ground.

The protestors included resident and junior doctors from several hospitals from across the capital and several cities, including Meerut, Jaipur, Amritsar, Rohtak and Patiala, striking medical students, who are on an indefinite hunger strike since May 13, students from several institutions and organisations, including JNU, IIT, Delhi University, Indraprastha University and schools.

Support poured from people of all walks of life, including lawyers, resident welfare associations, parents, non-government organisations, senior citizens, chartered accountants and representatives from corporate houses, besides backing from the medical fraternity including IMA, DMA, senior doctors, professors and doctors from private hospitals.

Stepping up the offensive against the government after the first round of talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh failed to resolve 14-day impasse on OBC quota, they were demanding a "written assurance" from the government on the issues raised by them.

"We are not against reservation on economic grounds but we are against reservation on the basis of caste, which will disintegrate the society," Dr Neha Gami from Maulana Azad Medical College and Youth for Equality leader said.

"Even former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had criticised VP Singh government in the Lok Sabha in 1990 post Mandal Commission for dividing the country on caste lines," she added.

Talking about the overwhelming public response against caste-based reservations, she said it was not just doctors' agitation, the government should be able to make this out from the day's rally.

"This rally will give the government the message that we mean business. We will not be bogged down and we will continue with the agitation," Youth for Equality leader Sasmit Sarangi said.

He said it was time that people across the nation took note of the fact that the policies of the government were detrimental to the public at large.

Attacking the government, he said it should shun vote bank politics.

Angry students, wearing black arm bands, formed human chains as the rally progressed.

BJP MP and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu and 'Management Guru' and author Shiv Khera also attended the rally and addressed the protestors.

Disappointed with inclusive talks with the Prime Minister, the students and doctors said they had hoped for a better outcome from the discussion with Dr Singh.

"He is the Prime Minister.... If he does not address the issues raised by us then who will," said Bharti Shah a student from Lady Hardinge Medical College, while carrying a placard which read "Bring Back Merit".

"We are severely disappointed with the way the government has ignored our demands...But that will not deter us. We will go on," she added.

Heavy deployment of police and Rapid Action Force had been done in and around the venue.

Disappointed with the 14-day stalemate, representatives of striking doctors and students on Saturday morning held an informal meeting with Minister of State without Portfolio Oscar Fernandes.

They said the meeting also discussed the "mess and miscommunication" Union Health Secretary PK Hota had caused after the negotiations with the Prime Minister.
 
"We conveyed to Mr Fernandes our demand of a written assurance about setting up of a judicial review committee and increase in the number of seats from the Prime Minister. The mess Mr Hota created was also taken up in detail... We will not back down without anything concrete," Dr Safal Singh, Maulana Azad Medical College RDA member and Youth for Equality leader, said.

He said last night Mr Hota had gone back to the Prime Minister with their demand of "written assurance" and when he returned back he was carrying an unsigned sheet of paper.

"Mr Hota was carrying an unsigned sheet of paper which only stated the UPA-Coordination Committee addresses concerns of all categories of students.... The students need not worry about shrinking educational opportunities as a massive expansion in capacities of higher education system would be undertaken," Dr Safal Singh said.

"The Health Secretary brought the PMO press statement to us as the concrete assurance from the Prime Minister. This is outrageous...," he added.

Dr Singh said they wanted the government to finalise its negotiator first and then resume talks with them.

"The Government must first decide who it wants to talk to us."