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Emotional Response To Murderous Apathy?


Jun 1, 2004
Jarnail Singh, a Sikh journalist who acquired a celebrity status after the shoe-throwing incident at a press conference addressed by Home Minister P Chidambaram on April 7, 2009, has exercised unusual caution while narrating the incident that made him a hero for large sections of the Sikh community. It is ironic because the “heroism” for which he was hailed by many Sikh bodies, including the Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, was clearly missing when it came to narrating the events that led to the infamous shoe-throwing incident.

“I took a step which shocked everyone. I did not have the intention of hurting Chidambaram. Despite my extreme emotion the shoe went towards a place where nobody was sitting even though a (television) camera angle showed it in such a way as if it went near his face”, Singh writes almost apologetically in the book under review.

Singh does not dissociate himself from the shoe-throwing incident, but nowhere in the book does he categorically mention that he had hurled the shoe and the aim of the missile was none else than the home minister. It could be Singh’s way of returning the favour Chidambaram did to him by not filing a criminal case against him. Or, perhaps, he had received legal advice against admitting in writing that he had indeed hurled the shoe at the home minister.

The former Dainik Jagaran journalist displays a similar sense of uneasiness for having violated the code of conduct that all members of his profession are expected to honour. “I accept this action was a violation of the code of journalism but the issue I have raised was just. Later, when I was asked, I expressed my regrets at the incident but also said that those people who have done the injustice should actually be the ones to apologise,” Singh writes.

However, that apology did not help Singh save his job. Immediately after the shoe-throwing incident, his employers asked him not to attend office for 20 days, nor speak to the media. He did speak to the media, as he explains, to clarify his stand. “After twenty days when I asked if I should return to work, I was told to wait till the elections were over,” he writes. Later, his employers put pressure on him to resign, but he resisted till he was “officially fired on July 1, 2009”.

From his detailed account of the incident, it appears that Jarnail Singh is the archetypal common man, torn between the pulls and pressures of earning a livelihood on the one hand and the desire to earn instant fame on the other. Nor is he endowed with the courage and determination needed to make that big move, to burn one’s boats and embark on the political journey that he certainly could have done after the shoe-throwing incident.
There are occasions where Singh presents himself as a naive and even confused person. He describes his action as an emotional response to the State’s refusal to punish those who were guilty of killing Sikhs in 1984. He bemoans the fact that political parties were trying to cash in on him by offering him a Lok Sabha ticket or that someone was willing to buy his shoe for Rs 5 lakh. “I had expressed the sentiments of the Sikhs. Why were these people putting a price on my emotions,” he asks.

Only the naive, however, will see Singh’s action at Chidambaram’s press conference as an emotional response. Singh has lived through the trauma of the pogrom against his community in 1984. Several chapters in the book, with a foreword from writer Khushwant Singh, narrate how thousands of Sikh families became victims of that unprecedented violence. He has experienced social humiliation (his teacher would call him a sardar and make fun of him even though he was good at studies) and even neglect at the cricket team selection trials in his college which, he says, produced many national cricketers. He certainly had a dream. He took up journalism because he was upset by the media’s lack of concern for what happened to the Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 in spite of the country at that time having a Sikh as its President.

His conscience was troubled by a government which, in spite of having a Sikh as its prime minister, would quietly endorse the closure of investigations against those accused of engineering the attack against the Sikhs in 1984. Worse, a few of them were to become Congress candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.The shoe-throwing incident put an end to all those plans of the Congress.

In that limited way, Singh’s “emotional response” had earned a major political victory for the Sikhs and the nation. Clearly, Singh was reluctant to pursue direct political action any further. That perhaps explains his attempt to describe it as an emotional response and play safe while narrating the shoe-throwing incident. It is a dilemma most middle-class Indians suffer in this country. The book, poorly translated from the original Hindi text, is an expression of that dilemma.

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