The shoe that hurt the most
The shoe throwing incident at a press conference addressed by the union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has both shocked and pained me as a journalist. Jarnail Singh, the Jagran correspondent may have had his reasons for hurling the shoe but to me it amounted to a totally unprofessional conduct. Similar incidents may have taken place elsewhere in the past but this act has no justification in a country where there are so many other and more dignified ways of voicing one’s anger.
Maybe I belong to the old school of thought but for me a journalist when he is assigned an assignment is expected to cover the event without any prejudice and bias. In doing so he is not expected to wear his religion or caste on his sleeve. In otherwords, a journalist while covering an event is neither a hindu or a muslim or a sikh or a Christian. He is a journalist whose total commitment has to be to his readers and the news organisation. If he has any views on the subject, they can be expressed on the views page but certainly not when he is attending a press conference as a scribe. Even Jarnail singh seems to have realised this and has admitted that his method was wrong though the issue was correct.
I am of the view that the 1984 anti sikh riots were a blot on the whole nation and the involvement of the Congress in the mass killings of the Sikhs was very evident. The Prime Minister and some members of the Nehru-Gandhi family have already expressed deep regrets for the dastardly and gruesome happenings. Similar incidents had taken place in Gujarat under the BJP but these cannot be defended by anyone. The guilty must be brought to book in both the cases.
However, the shoe throwing episode appears to be inspired by politics. There have been protests all over North India over the grant of Congress tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar who are perceived by a section of Sikhs to be involved in those riots. The Congress party could have easily avoided giving them tickets but each party looks at things in its own manner and decided to once again field them since none of the two has been ever convicted by a court of law.
The Akali Dal which does not have an issue grabbed the opportunity and has since been using this as a propaganda weapon against the Congress to garner the Sikh votes. Jarnail Singh seems to have been used by a segment in this vicious game and his act as is evident from camera replays was pre-mediated even if he has apologised for behaving in the manner in which he did.
There is a very important dimension to the entire issue. Number one, in a country where there is a rule of law, the government has to go by evidence that is collected against individuals accused of some involvement in a heinous crime. The governments cannot merely go by perceptions. Groups that have been protesting the 1984 riots have already concluded in their minds that such and such persons were involved in the riots. For them evidence does not matter and justice means punishment to those who they perceive committed the crime. It is a dicey situation and does not conform to the rule of law principles that exist in this country.
In the six and half years of the NDA government (Akali Dal was a part of it), the CBI had not been able to nail either Sajjan or Tytler and it is unlikely that this may happen if one goes strictly by law. But yes, a political party like the Congress should have taken note of the people’s sentiments and could have easily denied these two the party tickets. Both of them have been around for over 35 years and they could have been replaced by younger people with cleaner image. But then it is a decision the Congress had to take and did not take. Therefore it finds itself in some sort of a mess now.
Secondly, so far as the Jarnail singh episode is concerned, it will make things more difficult for journalists. I do not rule out a situation where journalists going to a press conference maybe asked by organisers to keep their shoes, cell phones and other possible missile like gadgets out of the conference room. If this was to happen, it would indeed be very unfortunate as journalists who are by and large considered as independent entities will also become suspects. The organisations too will have to ensure that whoever they send to any event behaves in an acceptable manner and does not indulge in emotional acts or acts borne out of beliefs which are personal in nature.
I think that the shoe throwing incident should be seen as a wake up call for journalists and newspaper organisations and in future such a thing should never be allowed to happen. Comparing the Chidambaram issue with the shoe throwing incident against George Bush or the Chinese Premier is not fair.
In India we value are democracy and we cherish the free speech. Beliefs and the profession should never be allowed to overlap while an assignment is being covered. Journalist activism is not to be condoned in the field and if anyone has any strong views on any subject, he or she should express them on the Comments pages of their newspapers or appropriate slots on TV channels. I am indeed pained and disappointed over what happened and want to move on from there.
However, Chidambaram needs to be complimented for the cool manner in which he handled the entire issue.