A journalist tossed a shoe at Union Home Minister P Chidambaram during a news conference in Delhi to protest the Central Bureau of Investigation’s clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The shoe didn’t hit the minister who got out of the way just in time. The journalist, Jarnail Singh, was promptly led out of the conference being held at the Congress headquarters. Chidambaram carried on with the briefing.
But the incident touched a raw nerve in the Congress, prompting a section of the party to support a rethink on party tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar — who have faced charges of involvement in the anti-Sikh riots.
Party sources said the final call on Tytler and Sajjan Kumar will be taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is currently campaigning in the South. Tytler couldn’t be contacted despite repeated attempts.
“Congress is a large party and it takes considered decisions at appropriate time. Let us see what solutions emerge in the future,” Congress spokesman Ashwini Kumar said later in the evening.
Singh, a reporter with Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, was taken to the Tughlak Road police station soon after. He was released after less than an hour as Chidambaram decided not to press charges.
“I forgive him… He did it in a fit of emotion,” Chidambaram said, minutes after Singh was removed from the news conference, which had been called to unveil the Congress’s pledge to protect India from terror.
Dainik Jagran editor Sanjay Gupta issued a statement saying “disciplinary action” will be taken against Singh. “Such actions which can spread violence or hatred are against the policy and norms of the newspaper,” he added.
Singh himself was apologetic after his release. “I have nothing against Chidambaram or the Congress party. It happened in the heat of the moment. The fact is that Sikhs haven’t got justice,” he said.
The news conference had been uneventful till then. Chidambaram had justed finished his presentation on the Congress’ roadmap to tackle terror, when Singh asked about the CBI’s clean chit to Tyler.
Singh asked the minister to respond to the charge that he had put pressure on the CBI to giving a clean chit to Congress’s North-East Delhi candidate Tytler, ahead of the elections.
Singh, like many people, assumed that the CBI falls under the purview of the Home Minister. The department of personnel and training is the administrative ministry of the investigating agency and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the minister incharge.
Chidambaram said as much.
“First of all let me make it clear CBI’s administrative ministry is not the MHA. Neither the Home Ministry nor any other ministry of the government, to my knowledge, has put any pressure on the CBI in the Tytler case.”
“The CBI has submitted its report to the court and it is up to the court to accept or reject the report. Let us be patient,” he added.
But as Singh persisted with his question, the minister told him “no arguments, you are using this forum”.
“I protest,” said the journalist sitting in the front row as he picked up his shoe and tossed it at the minister.
Two men came and escorted Singh out of the room.
“Please take him away…gently, gently…doesn’t matter…settle down, settle down,” said Chidambaram as Singh was escorted out of the stunned AICC press briefing room.
An unruffled Chidambaram asked other journalists to settle down and continued to take questions.
Within hours, Sikh leaders lined up to felicitate Singh. The journalist, however, turned them down and urged political parties not to politicise the issue.
“If they can do something constructive, only then they should take it up. Sikhs have come a long since 1984. But they must be given justice so that they are completely absorbed in the mainstream.”
On its part, the Congress described the incident as “unfortunate” and said it does not want to pursue the matter further. “As far as we are concerned, the chapter is closed,” Congress spokesperson Ashwini Kumar said.
The BJP condemned the incident but maintained that the act was an expression of sentiments of the Sikhs. It also asked the Congress to take lesson from the incident. The Congress should withdraw its anti-Sikh riot accused candidates – Tytler and Sajjan Kumar — from the Lok Sabha elections, said BJP spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh.