Arguably, one can blame an aggressive psyche of the people. Even dismiss it 'hot-blooded' sub-continental temperament to the raging Celsius heat. But how should one read the unprecedented four incidents of 'shoe-cide attacks' by the aam aadmi on our much-venerated and powerful netagan which are resonating across electoral India? Overtaking the traditional mud-slinging attacks and replacing them with the smelly and 'slippery' shoes.
Can one simply shrug off the journalist hurling his shoe at Union Home Minister Chidambaram by stating we are gripped by the US 'me-too' syndrome? Remember, it all started when an angry Iraqi journalist hurled his shoe at the former US President Bush on his 'thank you' visit to Baghdad. Or view the other three cases it as disgruntled partymen denied tickets throwing their slippers at BJP's Prime Minister-in-waiting Advani, industrialist-turned-politico Naveen Jindal and fading Bollywood star Jitendra campaigning for a politician.
Importantly, it's all this and much more. It is a sign of a maturing and assertive electorate demanding answers from its leaders in an evolving democracy. Yet another sign of the increasing unrest among the people against their 'nikamma' leaders and moribund institutions, run like personal fiefdoms, corrupt, callous with an undercurrent of might is right. A symbol of the janata's anger, contempt, disgust and revulsion against the misrule by our polity.
That the shoes were hurled at leaders, who are not the usual criminal-politicos riding the crest of money and muscle power or the cow belt's Made in India netas is a pointer that the people's patience is running out--and fast.
More important, it exposes the wide chasm between the aam aadmi and our netas. And the increasing frustration and disconnect over the vandalisation of institutions by the so-called jan sevaks. Especially against the distorted Orwellian concept of democracy in vogue: Some are more equal than the others, read politicians and babudom.
That our poverty-stricken bare-footed poor for whom the innocuous footwear is not only a luxury but something to be venerated and worshiped should resort to chappal se maroonga tactics speaks of their desperation for a better deal, accountability and good governance.
According to folklore the slipper has been a symbol of worship over centuries. Remember, Bharat in the Ramayana, who kept his brother Ram's 'khadaoin' on the throne when he was banished for 14 years and ruled Ayodhya as his Regent. In villages, homes have carvings of saintly 'khadaoin' on their front doors to revere saints and Gods they worshiped.
Besides, the shoe serves the all-important purpose of keeping one's feet clean amidst the filth and dirt of day-to-day living. In aam homes (those not invaded by western concept) the tradition is to take off one's footwear before entering the house to keep the muck outside.
In addition, the chappal is used as an expletive of contempt, disrespect, frustration and a powerful missile to express angst. More than physical pain, it serves as a censure, heaps scorn and hurts the ego of the one hit by the footwear. Recall, in 2006, a village in Andhra Pradesh took recourse to the chappal se maroonga syndrome to make drinking husbands fall in line. Wherein the villagers decided that a wife would beat her husband with her chappal and the man would pay her Rs.5,000. This resulted in the incidents of drinking drastically coming down.
Needless to say, the journalist-shoe aimed at Chidambaram served its purpose whereby the Congress replaced two candidates to assuage the anger and hurt of the Sikh community demanding justice for the 1984 riots that saw 3000 Sikhs killed and burnt alive. For the other three shoes-slinging incidents, the leaders chose to adopt the policy of forgive and forget. No matter, this had more to do with showcasing a smile during polls than being seen as a rigid unforgiving party-pooper.
Notwithstanding, the hullabaloo about Shoegate, it is no different from other forms of public anger displayed in Imphal and Bhubaneswar a few years ago, when angry students gheraoed the respective State Assemblies and refused to let the MLAs' out. Both demonstrating their disgust against the State Government's misrule and its policies of fanning communal fires.
What to speak of the increasing dharnas against various Governmental departments, beating-up of officials by an irate public, doctors and other professionals protests against the sarkari reservation policy etc. Or the citizens' candlelight vigils post 26/11 in Mumbai to last week's students' protest against an elitist public school apathy which led to the death of a 17-year-old girl in the Union Capital. All pointers that the people's fortitude is running out.
Sadly, however, our netas refuse to see the signs. Instead of going in for a course correction, they take the easy way out by arresting the protestors and chappal throwers. Yet, when it comes to themselves they apply a different yardstick. Sure, they do protest. Instances are aplenty of paper-weights being hurled by MPs and MLAs at the Speakers of their respective Houses, microphones being ripped and used to hit opponents, fist-fights in full public view et al.
But what is their rage about? Their own incompetence and scoring points against their rivals. What action is taken? Zilch. Why doesn't the same rule of law apply to them? Why are they not hauled up or put behind bars? Simply because they are above the law and rule by law. Brazen double standards.
Is this what our democracy is all about? Where the 'more equals' play havoc with the janata and get away with it. At best a feudal democracy and at worst an autocratic republic which refuses to take criticism in its stride. Sadly, instead of addressing the issues raised by the Shoe-cides, trust our netagan to further 'barricade' themselves against public anger by asking for more security and erecting metal nets at rallies.
Not a few leaders want shoes to be scrutinized now. Does that mean the rent-a-crowd would have to attend public functions sans the shoe? Or will special cushioned shoes be provided? Already an enterprising person has launched a juta phenko (hurl the shoe) training campaign. Ostensibly, aimed at helping future shoe-chuckers hit the target.
We are in an era where the society is slowly shaking off its jo hukam mentality. No longer is it scared of being pulverized for daring to speak up. Put it down to affirmative action, TV and telecom connectivity. Clearly, if our leaders do not learn from these shoe-sole incidents it holds out ominous portends for India's democracy wherein hurling footwear will not become the exception but the rule.
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