A television debate show in northern India has ended in horror after a spectator set himself ablaze and embraced a local politician, leaving both men fighting for their lives, police and a witness told AFP Tuesday.
The election show on India’s state-owned national TV channel Doordarshan was being recorded in a park on Monday in Sultanpur, a town about 160 kilometres from the city of Lucknow.
A man, named by police as Durgesh Kumar Singh, emerged from a crowd of about 150 onlookers, doused himself in petrol and then grabbed the local leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Kamruzzama Fauji, engulfing the pair in flames.
Singh sustained burns on 95 percent of his body which are likely to be fatal, while Fauji was in a critical state with 75 percent burns, police said.
“This man suddenly came on the stage, poured petrol on himself and set himself on fire before tightly hugging one of the political guests,” local photographer Pankaj Kumar Gupta told AFP.
“People were just too shocked to know what was happening,” said Gupta, whose photos show the men engulfed in flames with spectators fleeing the scene.
Two other local politicians taking part in the show, Ram Kumar Singh and Chowdhary Hriday Ram Verma, also sustained minor burn injuries while trying to save the pair. “The injured were first admitted to the district hospital here (in Sultanpur) and were then referred to Lucknow,” said a statement from the police.
The motive for the incident is unknown.
India’s numerous television channels are holding nightly debate shows during the ongoing parliamentary elections, often staged in villages and towns with politicians taking questions in front of local voters. The election, the world’s biggest, will end on May 16 with results expected to show the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power after 10 years of rule by the leftist Congress party.
Gupta said the show on Monday was called Janmanch 2014 (People’s Forum 2014) featuring five local politicians which was coming to an end when the man suddenly appeared. “Within minutes, the Doordarshan team closed its cameras and packed all their equipment,” he said.
Meanwhile, police in Indian Held Kashmir have detained more than 500 residents as well as Kashmiri leaders before the latest round of voting in the restive region, officers and separatists said Tuesday.
Police said the crackdown took place in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and throughout the constituency that votes on Wednesday as part of the country’s continuing staggered six-week general election. “To ensure peaceful and violence-free polling in Central Kashmir, police have been taking preventive measures and arrested around 400 stone pelters and trouble mongers,” a police statement said.
“Nobody will be allowed to disrupt the electoral process. The arrests have been made and will continue to be effected to instill confidence among the voters.”
In addition, police targeted some 130 residents whom they suspect would lead protests on Wednesday against the polls, arresting them in raids on their homes, a senior officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“About 130 people were arrested since yesterday (Monday) in Srinagar,” the officer said.
The Muslim-majority and volatile Kashmir valley, where a separatist movement against Indian rule is centred, posed a heightened challenge for security forces during previous rounds of polling earlier this month.
Top separatist leaders, who reject the elections as well as Indian rule over Held Kashmir, have been detained in police stations or confined to their houses, separate statements from two main separatist groupings said.
Voting has been light so far in the valley for the election after a campaign by local groups, who killed three people last week and warned locals not to take part.
Police faced stone-throwing protesters in the southern Kashmir valley during voting on April 24. They used tear gas and batons to disperse crowds protesting against the poll. About a dozen groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 either for independence or for the merger of the territory with Pakistan.
The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.