SOMETIMES, WORDS can haunt even decades later and become a powerful leitmotif. Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous words — when a big tree falls, the earth shakes — during the brutal massacre of Sikhs in 1984 is one such sentence. It has peppered discussions and debates for 25 long years and it is this chillingly cold analogy that still records a high nine on the emotional Richter scale, so powerful is its recall. This time, the earth shook again, but under the Congress’ feet. One boot thrown at the Home Minister P Chidambaram by a journalist was enough to uncork the lava and focus attention straight and square on the anti-Sikh riots once again. But this time, if the earth shook it was because of the timing of the shoe-throwing incident. It came in the midst of the general election, a crucial election in which the Congress-led UPA is fighting to reclaim power. It has been an election issue even earlier. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, have in the past made a political point of apologizing to the Sikh community in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the most-revered gurudwara. The shoe was a mere reminder that Carnage 1984 still has the potency to trigger an election flash point. As soon as the shoe was thrown, various Congress leaders were besieged with frantic phone calls from Punjab and its state unit in Delhi. Every single one of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab is linked to the Sikh vote bank and nobody in the Congress high command could afford to alienate a community that comprises 59.9 percent of the state’s population. No one could afford to overlook the negative impact of fielding Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, the two most prominent and maligned faces of 1984 from the Capital city of Delhi where Sikhs were slaughtered in the worst massacre. Sikh votes add up to 25 percent of the total votes in Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha segments. Till the day the journalist flung his shoe, it was all about winnability, not accountability; about victory in the public arena, not justice in the courtroom. Till then, the Congress was looking at the Sikh vote bank differently — Tytler had won the Delhi Sadar seat four consecutive times, beaten Vijay Goel, the formidable BJP candidate in 2004 by 16,000 votes and, in any case, the Sikh votes total a mere 1.20 percent, the least in Delhi. In the case of Sajjan Kumar too, the Sikh votes comprise only two percent and his victory margin was much larger — he had won the outer Delhi seat by an overwhelming two lakh votes, defeating former BJP chief minister, Sahib Singh Verma.