The Shoe Incident

I have known Jarnail Singh for almost five years now. After five years of covering the same beat, and being co-travellers both within the country and abroad, I count him as a personal friend, who I've come to know quite well. Scrupulously upright and with a no-nonsense morality, Jarnail has always been a quiet questioner. Never aggressive, but constantly, relentlessly questioning, as any good journalist should. For the time that I have known him, his impulse has never been to show hostility -- certainly not of the kind that he showed this morning. It is for that reason alone that I imagine that Jarnail's decision to lob his footwear at the Union Home Minister was a shivering manifestation of a quarter century of naked outrage felt by an entire community, and many others besides. I have never had the chance to discuss the 1984 riots with Jarnail, but he's a Sikh who has lived his life in Delhi. Over the last 15 years that he has been a journalist, he is likely to have witnessed first hand the phenomenally shameful conduct of the Congress Party, which believes that all was forgiven following Sonia Gandhi's apology, in itself a poll gimmick.

I've been thinking about Jarnail's action all day. In the afternoon, when I sent Jarnail a text message inquiring after his condition (he had been detained by the police), he replied that as a journalist, he shouldn't have done what he did. Fair. But there's still no denying that there has been almost no real outlet for the absolutely colossal sense of outrage that Sikhs in the country, especially Delhi, have felt over the CBI's recommendation that Jagdish Tytler be cleared of all charges. The party even has the nerve to serve up a ticket year after year to Sajjan Kumar -- since the thug wins invariably, to hell with moral perceptions.

As a journalist, imagine Jarnail's position. And the questions. Was the shoe-throwing pre-meditated, or did Jarnail truly snap in the face of Chidambaram's signature arrogance. As a journalist, has he violated the sacred line that divides witnessing and affecting. Journalists are constantly accused of being bloodless, heartless drones buzzing between one story and the next. So did Jarnail break the cardinal rule of reporting, which is to report not from your point of view, but from nobody's point of view? Jarnail himself thinks he did, so nobody else's opinion really matters.

But he is firm that his motivations were not incorrect or immoral, and nobody can take that away from him. While much of the media -- and of course, the political parties -- "condemn" Jarnail's action as improper and inappropriate, they conveniently gloss over the reasons for why this normally tranquil gentleman chose to throw caution to the wind, and put his career and future in clear jeopardy by lobbing a sneaker at the Home Minister. That's the question the Congress Party should think about. Everything else is just, well, footwear.

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