8 years ago, journalist Jarnail Singh, now an activist and politician, flung his shoe at former Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, in reaction to comments about forgetting November 1984 at a press meet. Enamoured by his act, WSN Editor Jagmohan Singh wrote a symbolic Open Letter (now edited) to the Shoe which, made a history of sorts and brought some cheer to a beleaguered Sikh community reeling under memories of the carnage.
Dear Jarnail Singh’s Shoe: I wonder how to greet you, but greet I must. Since the last few days, every time I remove my shoes, I treat it with more respect and care than ever before. Let me say a sweet Sat Sri Akal. You are special for me and many Sikhs. Instead of having a rickety old small cupboard, I am planning to have a nice setting to place your brothers and sisters in my house.
We love you for you have achieved what years of legal wrangling and executive prevarication could not do. The gentle toss from the gentlemanly Jarnail Singh’s feet to the vicinity of Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has immortalized you. In two and half metres you traveled twenty-five years.
Throughout this year, the commemoration of 25 years of the 1984 pogrom would have been a sordid and painful affair, but you have given the Sikhs a reason to pause and be a little satisfied. In a span of less than five seconds, you put the Congress party on the mat and made them change their profile. A bit. I cannot recall any incident like this in Indian or world political history. The mere show of a shoe brought the Congress party on its knees and the perpetrators of mayhem were shown the door. Booted out would not be liked by you, isnt it?
“Oh dear shoe! The gentle toss from the gentlemanly Jarnail Singh’s feet to the vicinity of Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has immortalized you. In two and half metres you traveled twenty-five years.”
Why did you miss Palaniappan Chidambaram? Was your wearer Jarnail Singh being as polite as he normally is? Did he merely want to score a point? Was it off the cuff or premeditated?
I think you managed the trajectory. You were cleverer than Jarnail Singh. You did not want to be tainted with the touch of a person who justified mass murder. You were conscious that in his earlier avatar as Minister for Internal Security, he probably had some hand in the murder of Indian Post journalist Dhiren Bhagat -who had exposed massive illegal arms sale to vigilantes and police in Punjab.
The media has been extra nice to your foe -the Home Minister and has called him sweet and soft. Perhaps, he was as soft as Kurt Waldheim who went on to become the Secretary General of the United Nations, till his Nazi past was discovered and he was called persona non-grata.
“In the long, tiresome and apparently fruitless journey in search of justice, we should not allow any of perpetrators to go scot free. Even if it requires throwing another shoe.”
Hey, I am sure you must be laughing at all this talk of ethics, journalistic norms and good behaviour in a section of the Indian media. Your boss -I hope you do not take offence, if I call him so, merely tossed you. What about the running commentary of jingoistic journalism that we were fed with after 26/11? Saner elements all across India and the world were bewildered at the manner in which the incident was being telecast minute after minute, round the clock by satellite television. The shrill voices of renowned anchor-editors Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai even today through their Terror TV, send a chill down the spine.
Till how long can one function without a spine? How long? Spinelessness kills character; can we have journalism without character? Can we govern the country without character? What you perhaps may not know is that the person who has given you fame witnessed immense pain and suffering twenty-five years ago on the streets of Delhi. What you may know as his constant companion is that Jarnail Singh was certainly inspired by the election campaign of his paper, Dainik Jagran. Billboards all across the country are telling the electorate, “Ham Nahi Karenge to Kaun Karega?“If not us, who will? Not stopping at this, they go on to say, “Ab Nahi to Kabh? “If not now, then when? I hope Dainik Jagran will take this into account when they consider any action, if any against your friend Jarnail Singh.
You must be wondering about all this sudden limelight that you have gained. Your pals have been in the papers and on television but have always remained confined to the paid advertisement sections. You were never placed on the upper half of the page. That too, the front page. Companies who have branded you spend millions every year but the company which manufactured you and the store in Seattle from where you were bought by Jarnail Singh, may see more Sikh patronage.
For the Sikhs, the footwear of the devout and the brave is the carrier of the sacred dust which can wash sins and make one humbler. Next time when someone picks your brethren outside a Gurdwara, one is sure to remember you and your contribution.
While writing to you, I also remember the admonishment of my school headmistress, who used to scream, “The first thing to see in school uniform is a clean and bright shoe. Gradually the sight moves upwards.”
I do not know whether you are in the custody of the police or in the backrooms of the Home Minister’s office. I am not sure at this stage whether you will land at Christie’s till some unknown Sikh millionaire may bid for you just as they do for your other fellows worn by David Beckham.
What I do know is that later that day, after you had finished your task, you heard the minister say,“ 400;”I forgive him. Subsequently you also heard the lumpen leader Jagdish Tytler say,“I wish to apologise to the Sikhs. Whatever happened was a shameless act I had actually abused the governor as he was enjoying his drink while the carnage was on.”
Nobody heard you. The whole country was obsessed with the minister, the would-be MPs and Jarnail Singh. I heard you loud and clear.
You said, “We do not forgive you. Who was enjoying what drink has still to be unearthed. We will find out, howsoever much the delay. We have a long way to go till we get due justice.”
I am with you in this journey and we should not allow any of perpetrators to go scot free -all those who have been testing our patience, undermining our loss and pain and ridiculing our wait for a fair, just and truthful closure to the pogrom of November 1984. Even if it requires throwing another shoe.
With best wishes and hopes to meet you someday.