Threw shoe at Chidambaram in 2009 not to hurt him but as a symbolic protest against lack of justice for 1984 riots, journalist-turned-AAP candidate Jarnail Singh, who is fighting from West Delhi constituency, tells Governance Now
Jasleen Kaur | March 20, 2014
Jarnail Singh, journalist-turned-politician, came to limelight when he hurled a shoe at the then home minister P Chidambaram, at a press conference in April 2009. Singh alleges that it was done to protest against Chidambaram’s remarks on the clean chit given to Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riot case. Singh’s anger stormed the attention of national media and Sikhs across the country, forcing the Congress to drop both of them as their candidates from 2009 general elections.
After the incident, Singh says he received several requests from parties to contest but declined since he did not want to enter politics. But that was then. Five springs on, he has joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and is contesting from West Delhi Lok Sabha constituency. In an interview with Jasleen Kaur, Singh says if his one shoe can throw two “criminals” out of the political system, the broom will certainly clean the entire system. Edited excerpts:
You received many requests to contest soon after the shoe-throwing incident in 2009 but you had declined then. What changed your mind now?
I am not a political person and I never wanted to fight an election.
In May last year Arvind Kejriwal joined us in our protests for the victims of 1984 riots. He was making a sincere effort to weed out the 3 Cs in our political system – the corrupt, criminals, and the communal. He told me that by throwing the shoe, I threw two criminals out of the system but there are many still part of it and we should join hands (to cleanse the system).
In our country elections are fought on the basis of caste and cash, and people had lost all hopes. But I salute Kejriwal for restoring that faith in me and among people at large. The party had asked me to fight the (Delhi) assembly elections as well but I refused and offered my support instead. People want change and they proved that by voting for AAP in the assembly elections. And by winning so many seats the party also proved itself.
Kejriwal wanted my full commitment to the party by officially joining it and fighting the elections. So this time I filed my papers and it was properly scrutinised and I got the ticket.
You were not known to be actively associated with AAP during its formative period; you applied straight for the ticket. Has there been any dissent among AAP activists in the constituency?
I have not faced any such problem till now. I have full support of the local activists and workers. People understand that Arvind Kejriwal cannot fight election from everywhere.
AAP has been constantly in news, often for wrong reasons of late. Do you think this experiment will make an impact against what is perceived as a Modi wave?
There is nothing called a Modi wave. If there is any ‘wave’ it’s of anger and change that the common man wants to bring into the system.
I feel we are more targeted compared to other political parties because people and the media have more expectations from us. Perhaps that’s the reason all the morality is expected from us. But we all need to understand that in general elections we should just focus on issues that are important. Like what has the UPA government done in the last 10 years?
There have been numerous scams like coal, 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games or what the Vajpayee government did before that. Arvind Kejriwal was not running the country; he is just trying to improve the system. The larger parties are spending huge amounts of money to build their image but we feel we can build our image through character and by working for the people.
What are your memories of 1984 anti-Sikh riots? And what made you take that strong step in 2009?
I do not call it a riot because a riot is always between two communities. In 1984, people from one community were killed; it was government-sponsored terrorism. I was 11 years old and studying in a government school within the local gurudwara premises (Lajpat Nagar, south Delhi). My school and the gurudwara were burnt. My elder brother was manhandled and my uncle was badly beaten and doctors refused to treat him.
During graduation I once tried to search for the records of October-November 1984 at a public library. But I couldn’t find much. When thousands of people were killed and burnt alive in the national capital, no news was covered in the national dailies. That’s when I decided to join this profession (journalism).
When I was working for a national daily, Nanavati commission submitted its report in 2005. I was present in Rajya Sabha when prime minister Manmohan Singh said, “I bow my head in shame.” (Jagdish) Tytler was removed from the cabinet at that time. Singh assured the house that he will initiate action against culprits named in the report. But no action was taken against them from 2005 to 2009.
In 2009, the CBI gave them a clean chit and Chidambaram expressed his happiness. When I questioned Chidambaram on his statement, he accused me of using the platform for my own agenda. I threw my shoe not to hurt him; it was a symbolic protest. I was accused of crossing my line as a journalist. I accepted that. But I was forced to take such a step. My purpose was to just bring the issue back in limelight because people were still hoping for justice.
And the Congress proved me right by denying tickets to both (Tytler and fellow Congressman and riots accused Sajjan Kumar) the very next day.
West Delhi has the highest Sikh population in Delhi. What sentiments do you see when you meet people there? Are you seen as a hope for the Sikh community’s long ordeal for justice?
I am not fighting election just because of a particular community. We are fighting for a cause and we are getting overwhelming response from people of other communities as well – Jat, Uttaranchali, Gujjar…. The issue is not of a Hindu or a Sikh. Even if the constituency has the highest Sikh population, they are still in minority here. We are the common man’s party and we do not indulge in caste- or community-based politics.
Has the resignation of AAP’s government from Delhi assembly dented its image among locals?
We formed the government in minority and fulfilled (some of) the promises we made. We worked on the core issues from the day one – people have seen our work and they believe us. We do not lie to the people. The system did change when AAP’s government was in power – any street vendor can tell you that he was not asked for bribe for 49 days. People know that we can bring in change, and there is no negativity.
This constituency threw up quite a few surprises by voting for AAP candidates in assembly elections in what were previously key BJP constituencies. How confident are you about your candidacy?
People are joining us in large numbers. In fact we feel our work in the Delhi government has raised people’s expectations and hopes from us and the response is very positive. They feel if there is any hope to get free from the corrupt political system of the country it is AAP.