After George W Bush and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (See: Wen follows Bush; escapes shoe missile at Cambridge), it was union home minister P Chidambaram's turn on Tuesday to face a protestor's shoe.
Dissatisfied with the minister's explanation about the apparent rehabilitation of two politicians accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, Dainik Bhaskar journalist Jarnail Singh took off his shoe and flung it at Chidambaram during a press conference in New Delhi.
But while both Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqui TV journalist who started the trend by hurling both his size-10 soft-leather shoes, one at a time, at Bush on his last visit to Iraq as US president, and Martin Jahnke, the Cambridge researcher who did the same to Jiabao, are behind bars, Jarnail Singh was let off without charges... though his employer says it has initiated disciplinary proceedings against him.
Perhaps, it has something to do with his inaccuracy – he missed by a fair margin - or perhaps it is a reflection of Indians' (and Chidambaram's) more forgiving attitude to minor transgressions. But while al-Zaidi was brutally wrestled to the ground, and is now serving a one-year sentence (recently reduced from three years), and Jahnke awaits trial in the UK (See: TV journalist Zaidi gets 3 years for 'booting' Bush), Singh was simply led away by two Congress workers, with Chidambaram saying, ''Gently, gently''.
Momentarily taken aback by the journalist's action, the minister quickly recovered his poise with a smile, and insisted on going on with the press conference despite the distraction, which entirely grabbed the attention. ''Let us not be distracted by what one person has done in a fit of emotion,'' he said. Asked for his reaction soon after the incident, Chidambaram said, ''I forgive him.''
The shoe was thrown after Jarnail Singh had asked a question about two of the accused in the riots, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, being given a clean chit by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Chidambaram replied that the home ministry had nothing to do with the CBI, which comes directly under the prime minister.
''The CBI has given a report to the court and it is for the court to accept or reject it,'' the minister said. When Singh persisted with his question, the minister told the journalist not to argue. This seemed to anger Singh, who in the split of a second took off his shoe and hurled it at the minister.
Singh, the Dainik Jagran's special correspondent, later said, ''My manner of protest might have been wrong, but I did not intend to hurt anyone. But the Sikh community has been denied justice for the past 24 years.'' Around 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in New Delhi and its neighbourhood in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
''I was not hitting him. I had no intention to hit him. I just wanted to protest and it happened... If I would meet Mr Chidambaram, I would say sorry to him. I have nothing personal against him or any political party,'' Singh said.
''It happened in the heat of the moment. Though my action might have been wrong, the issue remains,'' he added. He also urged political parties not to politicise the issue.
But of course, his last plea was in vain. With both Tytler and Kumar contesting the Lok Sabha elections from New Delhi on Congress tickets, opposition parties were quick to latch on.
The BJP, while condemning the manner of the protest, said the Congress should take note of the anguish in the Sikh community. ''Congress should withdraw Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar from the fray,'' a BJP spokesman said.
The reaction of other political parties too was on similar lines. But the Sikh community's reaction was even more favourable to Singh, with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee likening him to a Panthic hero and offering him a job in case he loses his current one.
Jairnail may well have to take up the offer, as his boss, Dainik Jagran editor Sanjay Gupta, is not amused and has initiated disciplinary action against him. Describing the episode as an ''unceremonious act,'' Gupta said it was a personal matter and had nothing to do with the paper's policy.