The anti-reservation agitation by medical students spread to different parts of the country on Monday with private doctors also joining the IMA-called nation wide strike, crippling basic health services for a second successive day.
As the agitation gathered steam, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh said he is ready to hold discussions on the issue with the striking students if they come forward for talks.
However, his invitation has been turned down by the students, saying they have 'lost faith' in him and now want
to meet the prime minister to resolve the issue.
"He (Singh) had assured us that he would hold talks with us before referring the bill on reservation to the union
cabinet. But he did not do that and we now have no faith in him," Safal, a representative of the Youth for Equality, said.
Thousands of medical students boycotted classes while government and private doctors struck work in hospitals in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi, where a mass indefinite hunger strike by students of five premier medical colleges continued.
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Normal and emergency services were affected in several hospitals in the national capital due to the strike with private hospitals also announcing closure of OPD services in support of the strike.
The striking resident doctors said they are running parallel outpatients departments in hospitals to "ensure that patients are not deprived of basic facilities and to minimise problems caused by the one-day strike."
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Hundreds of patients and their relatives were seen looking for help in various hospitals across the capital. However, authorities claimed they have initiated steps to ensure that essential services were maintained.
Emergency services in hospitals across Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh were hit as doctors, medicos and paramedical staff went on strike on Monday.
Wearing black badges and arm bands, protestors squatted in front of emergency departments and raised slogans against Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh, who was also burned in effigy, and the Congress-led UPA government.
In some parts of Rajasthan, too, medical students and resident doctors wore black armbands to expressed solidarity with the anti-reservation stir in different parts of the country.
Meanwhile, in Lucknow, while loud anti-reservation protests were being witnessed in different parts of the country, a Uttar Pradesh minister led a rally in support of quotas in jobs as well as in admission to higher education and professional institutions.
The organiser, R K Chaudhary, is Uttar Pradesh's sports minister and heads a local political outfit called BS-4, that took birth as a breakaway group of the Bahujan Samaj Party, north India's largest Dalit party.
Even as Chaudhary, a Dalit himself, was not able to muster up more than 1500-odd supporters to participate in the show, he succeeded in drawing local attention by marching through Lucknow's main thoroughfare, Hazratganj.
The rally culminated outside the state governor's house. A memorandum of demands was also handed over to the governor.
Earlier in the day, the backward castes cell of the Congress party also got some 500 rickshaw-pullers to pedal through Hazratganj in support of reservations.
In his charter of demands, Chaudhary has sought enhancement of quota for socially backward castes not only in government, but also in private institutions.
He told mediapersons, "Even United States had provision of quotas for underprivileged blacks under diversity laws; we could easily adopt the same pattern and introduce reservations even in sports as well as areas of literacy and culture."
Advocating expansion of the reservation policy, he said, "There was need to provide quotas in the defence services as well as the judiciary that had been exempted so far."
Flaying all other political parties for not coming out in open support of reservations, Chaudhary claimed, "It was only my BS-4 that took out the country's first true pro-reservation rally in New Delhi on March 15 , 2005, and we are here once again today."
When a scribe drew his attention to the Congress party's current move to extend reservations to professional educational institutions against which country wide protests were being witnessed, Chaudhary shot back, "Well, the Congress party believes in double-speak; while one minister talks about extending quotas, another minister of the same cabinet speaks against it."
Slogans raised by the rallyists said, "Baba tera mission adhura; BS-4 karega poora (Referring to Babasaheb Ambedkar: Baba, your incomplete mission will be fulfilled by BS-4). "Ab bana lo raaste, samman ke vaaste" (Let us make our own path for the sake of our honour); "Bahujan ke samman mein , BS- 4 maidan mein" (BS- 4 is on the battlefield to uphold the honour of the downtrodden.)
With inputs from Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow.
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