The slapstick moment has been ‘enjoyed’. A dozen forms of play on the word ‘shoe’ have been merrily bandied about by the media. But it’s time to take a serious, hard look at what could set a ridiculous, not to mention dangerous, precedent when it comes to conducting acts of protest. On Tuesday, journalist Jarnail Singh was irate enough to hurl a shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram. The reason for Mr Singh’s annoyance: he was ‘unhappy’ with Mr Chidambaram’s reply to his query on the CBI’s ‘clean chit’ to 1984 anti-Sikh riots-accused Jagdish Tytler. The fact that the Home Minister chose to ‘forgive’ Mr Singh for his action has little to do with what should have been done: charges pressed against the assailant to make him legally accountable for his irresponsible action. Instead, Mr Singh is now being feted as a ‘hero of Sikhs’ by certain quarters, with political bodies like the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Akali Dal falling over each other to reward him with cash and kind. A man who has thrown a shoe at a minister is even being compared to Bhagat Singh. This is beyond bizarre, it is downright shameful.
It is not our case to suggest that protests against the government or specifically regarding the case involving Mr Tytler’s Congress poll nomination should be gagged. Far from it. The CBI’s ‘final closure report’ needs to be debated and, as the court has ordered, re-looked at. But making a hero out of someone who subverts this whole debate by attacking a minister and thereby, providing a cheap and dangerous handle to a politicised section of society to the point of making it a serious pre-poll communal issue is lamentable. How would we react when someone, ‘annoyed’ with a court verdict — say, one that finds a person guilty of inciting communal riots — galvanises a mob or a politicised force by making an over-dramatic gesture? It is less Mr Singh’s shoe-throwing incident itself that we deplore; it is more the consequences of how irrational forces can be unlocked by such irresponsible action.
The fact that Mr Tytler will not be contesting elections because of one man’s offensive action against Mr Chidambaram does not bode well for the way our democracy works. This is not because Mr Tytler may be innocent of what he is accused of, but because his guilt has been proved by extra-judicial means. Mr Singh must be held accountable for his action according to the law. Otherwise, the law of the land will end up being tied to the hurling of shoes — or actions far, far worse.