On Wednesday, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was hit by a shoe during a public meeting in the Ratta Khera Village of his assembly constituency, Lambi. Badal may be the latest, but he isn’t first to be at the receiving end of footwear missiles hurled at a political figure.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi broadcast journalist, is perhaps the best-known person on the planet to fling a shoe at a politician. It could be because he hurled it at the POTUS, George W. Bush. On December 14, 2008, al-Zaidi shouted, “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog”, and threw his shoe at the then-U.S. president, during a Baghdad press conference. He was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign head of state.
Press conferences appear to be the favoured venue for scribes with a penchant to lose their shirt and their shoes. In 2009, a journalist tossed a shoe at the then Home Minister P Chidambaram during a press conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi to ostensibly protest the Central Bureau of Investigation’s clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The missile didn’t hit the minister, who leaned back in the nick of time.
Curiously the year 2009 appeared to have spawned an epidemic of shoe flinging. Apart from Chidambaram, others who were victims of this included Naveen Jindal of the Congress and LK Advani of the BJP, besides Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on a visit to England. In the case of then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, the throwing took a separatist tinge, when a police officer flung his large, brown leather boot at Abdullah when he was about to address a gathering on August 15. Abdul Ahad Jan then waved a black flag and shouted pro-aazadi slogans, before being escorted out of the venue.
The next year, 2010, saw such stars on the politics firmament as former Australian prime minister John Howard, his English counterpart Tony Blair and Greek premier Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou becoming the targets of shoe missiles, but the number did not reach the heady proportions of 2009.
People in the subcontinent may also recall that former Pakistan president, General Pervez Musharraf, had a shoe hurled at him in London in 2011, while addressing a Pakistani-origin gathering. The apparent provocation: the U.S. detention of Pakistani citizens.
While most attackers were consigned to the archives of infamy, Jarnail Singh, a former journalist with a Hindi daily, subsequently joined the Aam Aadmi Party and became the legislator from Delhi’s Rajouri Garden constituency.
Today, Singh is again in the limelight and is taking on Punjab chief minister Badal from the Lambi constituency in the upcoming Punjab assembly polls. That he has got a ticket from Arvind Kejriwal, who was once the target of a footwear missile in 2011 in Lucknow, is ironic. But now the shoe is on the other foot .
Protest is clearly the sole of politics.