No longer can Delhi’s cobblers ply their trade with a clean conscience. Last week an engineering student flung a shoe at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while he was addressing a rally in Ahmedabad. Earlier, a slipper was thrown at LK Advani in Madhya Pradesh. Before that a retired school teacher flung his shoe at Congress candidate Navin Jindal in Haryana. Blame the Lajpat Nagar-based journalist, Jarnail Singh, for starting this al-Zaidi-ism in India after he threw one on a cabinet minister during a press conference earlier this month.
This may have become a fad for protesters, but a lot of people think the act is in very bad taste, especially when the target of the shoe is someone as respected as Manmohan Singh. “To do something like that to Dr Manmohan Singh is unacceptable. He is honourable and has done nothing to deserve such behaviour,” says Neha Singh, a 21-year-old student.
“Bcoz Chidambaram let go the other guy (journalist) without taking any serious actions, people think its okey to throw shoe at high profile peoples and can get out of the mess easily... thatz wrong,” writes jasperduf on YouTube, which is airing the ‘shoe at PM’ clip.
In the recent past, Delhiites haven’t thrown just shoes, but also saliva on people they don’t like. On November 6, 2008, all hell broke loose in DU when a young man spat on the face of Prof. SAR Geelani, a lecturer at Zakir Hussain College. Geelani was attending a seminar and the spitter was part of the troupe led by DUSU president Nupur Sharma protesting against Geelani’s presence. (He was accused in the terror attack on Parliament, since acquitted.)
On February 13, 2009, when author Arundhati Roy visited the DU campus, she was greeted with a slipper thrown by student group Youth Unity for Vibrant Action. The slipper was auctioned for Rs 1,01,000 at Jantar Mantar five days later.
What is this city coming to? City-based author Samit Basu sees no problem with this jootebaazi. “I’m okay with any sort of protest as long as it’s short of actual violence,” he says. “Besides, shoe-throwing makes for good TV footage.”
But shoe-throwing doesn’t merely mean being discourteous. You might not get the shoe back! Manasvi Mamgai, a model who has around 60 pairs in her Saket apartment, would never part with her footwear. “It’s not about disrespect,” she says. “It’s just that I like my shoes.” This materialistic stand is shared by Amar Colony resident Sonam Tsomo, who has at least 50 pairs of sandals. “I’ll never throw shoes at anyone... I love my shoes,” she states.
“These new forms of protests are an expression of anger without language,” feels Dipankar Gupta, sociology professor at JNU. “These are acts of frustration and many people feel the resentment due to various reasons.” But even if we put aside morality, can one shoe change the destiny of a nation?