| A student on hunger strike at AIIMS reads Wings of Fire written by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who the protesters met on Wednesday. (AFP)
New Delhi, May 24: Striking medical students today scrambled to intensify their agitation against quotas without any clear-cut plan of action as it began to dawn on them that their campaign needed better coordination and more public support.
Students and resident doctors said the “first step” towards intensifying the protest was in urging senior faculty, nurses and staff in medical colleges in Delhi to join the strike and cripple hospitals.
The faculty at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has decided to go on what is being dubbed a “token mass casual leave”. The faculty will officially be on leave, but will continue to look after patients.
The students have also called for “civil disobedience” movement by professionals and traders tomorrow. They have appealed to traders, resident welfare associations, bank employees and bar associations not to work from 9 am to 12 noon tomorrow.
Stunned by the government’s decision last night to push through the OBC quota, the immediate response of the students revolved around such token gestures and voluntary action. In Calcutta, roads were blocked
With no political leader willing to lend open support, the students called on President A.PJ. Abdul Kalam, who asked them “to come out of their fasting mode and resume normal student life”. The President tried to pacify them by pointing out that the number of seats would be increased.
The students, however, stuck to their demand that a separate empowered commission be set up to examine the quota policy.
The campaign needs “leaders who could take this forward' crystallise the movement,” said Dr Binod Khaitan, the associate professor of dermatology and the vice-president of the AIIMS faculty association.
“The apolitical nature of this movement is its strength and its weakness. Coordination and logistics are sometimes weak.
“But this agitation appears set to continue,” Khaitan said tonight during a candle-light walk around the lawn where dozens of strikers lay sprawled in the evening heat.
“There’s a mood of anger and betrayal,” said Anirudh Lochan, a resident doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and a member of the Youth For Equality, the organisation that has steered the agitation. “We have had voices of moderation and voices of extremism among us, and the voices of extremism are likely to gain a greater say now.”
Lochan added: “It’s hard to do this. We all want to go back to work. But why did the government make this stupid announcement at a time when they were talking to us'”
It is still unclear how much support the striking students will get from within the medical community. The Indian Medical Association, which had issued a statement opposing caste-based reservations in educational institutions last month, has now said it is up to individual branches of the IMA to decide the nature of the anti-quota campaign.
At one point, some IMA officials had hinted that they would call an all-India medical bandh on May 25. But officials today said local branches of IMA have been asked to chalk out their own programmes.
“We don’t want this agitation to be associated exclusively with doctors,” said Dr Narender Saini, the honorary joint secretary of the IMA in New Delhi.