| Rishi Raj in Delhi. Telegraph picture
New Delhi, May 27: A man in his early-20s who sells gutka for a living but had once sought admission to B.Com set himself on fire outside the Ram Lila ground here where thousands of people had congregated for a noisy speech-laden anti-reservation rally.
A self-immolation attempt is the enduring image of the anti-Mandal movement of 1990 when Delhi University student Rajeev Goswami set himself ablaze. He survived the attempt but died two years ago.
Moments after motivational guru Shiv Khera had finished his anti-reservation oration this evening, the man standing outside the Ram Lila ground doused himself with an inflammable liquid, screamed “Down with reservations”, and set himself alight.
As flames engulfed his clothes and arms, a bystander and two policemen tore off his clothes and rushed him to the nearby Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital. Doctors said he had suffered 35 to 40 per cent burns but declared him out of danger.
Hundreds of miles away in Cuttack, a post-graduate medical student doused himself with kerosene on campus but was overpowered by striking students before he could set himself on fire. But unconfirmed reports said Surendra Mohanty, who is married, had earlier attempted suicide six months ago and blamed it on personal problems.
Police identified the man in Delhi as Rishi Raj Gupta, a resident of Shahdara in the east, who had come from Bihar five years ago to earn a living. Police said they are not ruling out the possibility that he was instigated into the self-immolation act.
Although the man shouted “Youth for Equality” and “Down with reservations” English in a quivering voice, police and other bystanders said he did not appear to be a student.
“My first impression of him was that he had not taken a bath for at least a week,” said Rakesh Agarwal, the first man to reach Gupta as he was burning. “There was dust and grime all over him.”
Students and doctors protesting against the proposed 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes in higher educational institutions condemned the self-immolation bid. “This is not what we wanted. We’ve strived to maintain a peaceful agitation,” said a senior resident doctor.
The incident cut short a show of strength by the anti-reservation protesters and prompted them to call off a plan to burn an effigy of Arjun Singh. Minutes after the incident, United Students declared that the anti-reservation agitation would continue until the government announced a rollback of the new reservation policy.