As actor-politician Pawan Kalyan took the stage at the Fortune Murali Park Hotel in Vijayawada on Friday under the banner of his party, the crowd of 300-odd people waited with bated breath for him to speak.
While many issues were scheduled to be discussed at the event, it was the first one, where he was going to talk about the fate of students from the Fathima Institute of Medical Sciences (FIMS) that had everyone's attention.
A group of students and parents from FIMS had arrived early at the venue, and a sense of desperation was clearly visible in their voice.
"He (Kalyan) has taken up and intervened for many causes, like the Uddanam Kidney disease, and stood by the victims. We believe that he can do something to help us. If this doesn't work, we don't know what will," one student remarked, before going on stage.
An emotional scene
Close to 100 students from the 2015-16 MBBS batch of the FIMS have been left in the lurch since last year after their college was derecognised. The concerned authorities didn't relocate them to other medical colleges.
It all started in 2015, when the Medical Council of India derecognised the institution before the academic year began. However, the FIMS management went to the Hyderabad High Court, who allowed the college provisionally admit students.
On April 24, 2016, almost nine months into their course, the students got to know that their college was derecognised, and that their admissions were null and void. They have been running from pillar to post since then.
Speaking to the 300-odd people who had gathered, the students said that the state government had failed them, and asked why they were getting punished for a mistake made by the college.
The students accused the government of failing to pass an ordinance in the Assembly or taking any other possible steps which could have helped them.
Several people broke down on stage as they spoke, and demanded some form of justice.
"We have given up all our hard-earned money just so that our children could get a better future. However, the college and the state are now playing with our lives. You are our last hope," a parent told Pawan Kalyan.
Students also showed the actor-politician a video of Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the promise he made to them while campaigning for the Nandyal bye-polls.
Pawan lashes out
After hearing the students and parents, Pawan Kalyan lashed out at the BJP and the TDP.
"Do not instigate them (students). They are angry. They will come out on the roads and no one can stop them. All these issues can be solved. As far as how much it will cost, it will definitely be less than the amount spent for the Pushkaralu," Kalyan said.
He also assured them that he would try to get some action done within a week. "We will make sure that you go to college soon," he said.
Pawan also lashed out at YSRCP, the opposition party in the state, who are presently boycotting the Assembly. Party chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy is undertaking a padayatra across the state.
"Instead of walking on the roads, you should be raising these issues in the Assembly," Pawan said.
Referring to demonetisation, he also attacked the Centre, saying, â€śWhen they can nullify several thousand crore rupees from the system in one single stroke, why canâ€™t they provide a medical seat to 100 students?â€ť
Following his speech, Sayeda Narmeen, one of the students said, "Since he has solved issues before, we have faith in him, that he will stand by us. He is our last hope. Since 20 to 25 students are from Telangana, we are planning to approach the state government over there to ask them to pressurise its neighbouring state."
Current state of students
In the last week of November, high drama prevailed in Gudanala, Vijayawada on Sunday after six students and a parent climbed a mobile tower and threatened to commit suicide if the government failed to give written assurance to the protestors.
After seven hours, the protesters came down when Naidu gave them an appointment. The Chief Minister told the students that he had directed state Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas to talk to the Medical Council of India and figure out a solution, and appointed a five-member committee to convey the grievances of the students to the Centre.
It was also decided that Kamineni Srinivas would visit Delhi on November 29 and 30, along with officials and students to discuss the issue with the Centre. However, the students alleged that only one student was taken along for the trip.
"Instead of five people, only I had been taken to Delhi. Even there, the Health Minister did not allow me to speak to officials and asked me to wait outside. When I questioned the move, he brushed me aside saying that I didn't know anything," Shaik Muzeer, one of the students, told TNM.
Accusing the Minister of playing a 'double-game', he said that the state government had even proposed a refund, which the students were not interested in.
What happened at FIMS?
The students were angry and upset at the first development in 2016, when an alternate proposal was put on the table, supported by the Andhra government.
According to the proposal, five students each from the FIMS 2015-16 batch would be relocated to 20 other medical colleges across the state.
However, the MCI did not agree with the proposal, and the case went to court. On October 27 this year, the Supreme Court dismissed a case filed by the Andhra Pradesh government on behalf of the students of FIMS.
Since then, they have resorted to several forms of protest and even met YSRCP president YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who in turn wrote a letter to Union Health Minister JP Nadda, seeking his intervention in the case.
The students have been left with no options, no money, and are staring at the possibility of three academic years gone to waste.
Inputs by Nitin B