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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

Where did his shoe go?

Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, August 24, 2014
First Published: 09:58 IST(24/8/2014) | Last Updated: 10:02 IST(24/8/2014)

Ever since a shoe was hurled at chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in a village near Khanna on Independence Day, there has been no spurt in the sale of shoes in Punjab. Anyway, there has certainly been a spurt in opinion-mongering on the subject.

The shoe-thrower himself, who prefers being identified only as Bikram — “Don’t use Kumar or Singh or anything,” he said before being taken away by cops — simply described it as “nothing personal, just a protest against the corrupt system”. But a shoe isn’t always the best weapon. Your vote is.

For the politically correct and nauseatingly polite commentators, the shoe-hurling was a “deplorable attack on the dignity of the CM’s post”. But dignity, too, must be relative to the incumbent; and not necessarily of the beta-bahu-sala variety.

A huge lobby is fine with such a protest and the mode, just that it thinks “CM Badal, being in his late 80s, is too elderly to be subjected to such acts”. Even Bikram — the thrower, not the relative — acknowledged that he did not mean to actually injure Badal “as he is a very old man”. Age is on Badal’s side, in a sense.

There is, of course, some blatant admiration for Bikram’s act, which has been defined as a “rare display of courage” or a “valiant call for war”, and his shoe as the “Shoe of Punjab”. There are even those who think Bikram should have practiced properly before the act. The shoe landed 40 feet away from the stage, you know. People are unforgiving. Crudeness is contagious.

But I have steered clear of all this. My point is non-political, more economical, a tad personal, and very simple: One shoe lost is a pair wasted.

I understand that there is big-time symbolism attached to shoes, and that is perhaps why Bikram chose it over something more physically hurtful, such as a stone. The shoe is a global phenomenon, and has been used gloriously in India as well. Remember Jarnail Singh? That journalist who gently tossed his shoe towards the then home minister P Chidambaram some years ago to protest inaction in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases. He was honoured by the Badal-controlled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for his act. That Jarnail is now a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) while Bikram too is allegedly a frontline AAP activist in his native town of Dhanaula in Barnala.

The irony is not lost on anyone.

No wonder, then, that Bikram’s shoe has been hailed by many modern-day revolutionaries. For some, it represents frustration over the state government’s belated, cosmetic attempts to curb drug abuse.

The grief of families who have lost sons to alcohol and narcotics distributed freely during elections. For some others, the shoe is a spanner that should clog the wheels of a private transport company whose earnings have touched the orbit in recent years. It is also the cry of anguish by young teachers, who have to spend months protesting atop water tanks before they get rightful jobs. This shoe has many avatars.

But let’s forget the shoe and its symbolism. The real symbolism lies in what has happened after the hurling. The police have acted swiftly, as they always do in such cases. There have been blatant attempts to play up the alleged political connection. AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, who has been talking a lot as usual, has been linked with the “conspiracy”. On the technical front, as the shoe-throwing did not attract major sections of the Indian Penal Code, the case is now also about Bikram allegedly having injured the cop who arrested him. Bail has become difficult. A provision of the IT Act has also been added as the “conspirators” allegedly made and distributed videos defaming Badal.

All the action has happened even though Badal had announced just after the incident that he had “forgiven” the shoe-thrower and would direct the police not to take action. Obviously, the benevolent chief minister changed his mind. The incident could well have become a passing reference about routine discontent with the SAD-BJP government. The damage could have been limited. Now, it is a full-blown episode, no longer about the lost shoe, nor about the protester or conspirators. It is now about the Badal regime and its ways. The shoe has hit the target.

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