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Watch it Beijing, here it comes

A crazy situation demands a crazy protest strategy. Therefore, there comes a time when hurling a shoe at someone — literally or symbolically — is the only way to get heard, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2009 22:33 IST

Feeling helpless? Go chuck a shoe at someone. After Muntazar al-Zaidi’s attack on George W. Bush, the shoe in flight has become the weapon of the powerless. Recent targets include Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. In a mass attack in January, hundreds of marchers protesting the Israeli attacks in Gaza threw their footwear at Gordon Brown’s official residence in Downing Street.

But in this spree, only two incidents were triggered by genuine human emotion. Al-Zaidi attacked Bush because he was rendered temporarily insane by the inhumanly ‘icy smile’ on his face. And Jarnail Singh, the journalist who slung a shoe at P. Chidambaram this week, did it out of frustration when the Home Minister refused to address a perfectly legitimate question about the 1984 anti-Sikh ‘riots’. The other incidents were premeditated, politically motivated copycat attacks.

Singh had honourably distanced himself from the Akalis and the BJP, who were trying to milk him for political capital. Had he permitted himself to be co-opted, perhaps his action would not have had the moral strength to send Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar packing. The general public has few weapons with which to express its frustration at the temerity of the powerful. They can’t be frittered away in cheap electoral games.

Of course, nations have even fewer weapons — setting aside the obviously impractical nuclear option — against the temerity of other nations. Pakistan stonewalled us for four months before grudgingly admitting that its nationals were behind the Mumbai attack. We could do nothing about it. And there’s the relentless needling from China, perhaps an even more serious matter because it is one of our biggest trading partners. Last week, the Chinese had the gall to protest against President Pratibha Patil visiting Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as its own. Of course, India was asking for this. In 2003, the NDA government recognised Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in exchange for the Chinese relinquishing claims on Sikkim. Now, since the Chinese regard Arunachal Pradesh as ‘Southern Tibet’, they think they own it too.

The Chinese claim to historical ownership of Tibet is bosh. If they were really in control in 1959, why did they have to send in the army and force the Dalai Lama into exile? Sure, China has controlled Tibet in the past, but maps change over time and the world moves on. What if Tibet periodically acknowledged Chinese authority from the 17th century onwards? In the Buddhist period, India exerted an overpowering cultural hegemony over the lands now identified as China. So, going strictly by Beijing’s logic, China belongs to us and Mayawati should be its president. Maybe Prakash Karat can arrange it.

We should fling the diplomatic equivalent of a shoe at China to stop this craziness over Arunachal Pradesh. The NDA had a secret weapon in George Fernandes, who is famously sensitive about Chinese aggression. The NDA government spoke with Beijing civilly enough, but it also let Fernandes rant freely in the media. The cumulative message was: Look, we’re all sensible people here and won’t nuke each other. But there’s George, you know. He’s capable of anything, and he’s the bloody Defence Minister. Crazy strategy, like hurling a shoe, but that’s what you need in a crazy situation.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

First Published: Apr 10, 2009 22:29 IST