R K SINHA Shoes are in news again. Call it shoe or slipper (foot wear) has hit news headlines this election which ended on May 19. Kamal Hassan was addressing an election rally in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday last ( May 15) for his Party MNM (Makkal Nedhi Maiam) campaigning for state assembly by-elections due later this month. Not one or two but four ‘chappals were hurled at the dais. But the missiles missed the target and fell instead on the crowd. Hurling shoes or slippers is a way of protest not only in India but world over. The shoe missile is harmless in the sense that even when it hits the target it does not inflict any serious injury. In April last in the midst of campaigning at a rally held in Western Uttar Pradesh attended among others by all three stalwarts of ‘gathbandhan’ namely Mayavati, Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh it was reported that the Jat leader Ajit Singh had to put off his shoes as he climbed up the dais since Mayavti does not like others sharing the dais with her with their shoes on. No wonder, despite being a leader of Dalits and Oppressed, she has a regal style of living. When she was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh a bureaucrat was seen taking his handkerchief out to remove dust from her shoes in full public view. A journalist friend who was posted in Lucknow in 1990s representing an English national daily had interesting story that he narrated to me. At Mayawati’s press meet journalists were asked to put off shoes or slippers before entering the venue. My friend registered objections to the practice. Mayavati’s men yielded and allowed journalists to enter the venue of press meet with their shoes on. Mulayam Singh Yadav who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh thrice constructed a new office building of Samajwadi Party. The rule was that anybody before entering the office was asked to put off shoe. Again, my friend refused to unlace his shoes and made entry inside office. The staff did not put any resistance. What we all know that anybody visiting a temple of place of worship of Hindu religion has to keep his or her shoes off. It is mandatory and none including President of India and Prime Minister are exempt. In most of the Bengali household visitors and guests have to keep their shoes off before entering the living room. In 1996 my friend was in Allahabad to cover general elections to Lok Sabha. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi was contesting the seat as a BJP candidate. He reached his residence in morning. Guards stopped him at the entrance and asked him to put off his shoes. He refused to do so and forced his way into the living room. When Dr Joshi entered the living room after performing his morning Puja, he was looking at my friends feet with some surprise thinking how come he entered the living room with shoes on. But no word uttered about shoes. There are many more interesting tales of how important shoes are in our life; may call it shoe culture. The late Narain Dutt Tiwari was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It was Emergency year. Sanjay Gandhi was in Lucknow. At a function his one slipper fell down. The then chief minister was quick to pick up the slipper and put it into Sanjay’s foot. It invited criticism from public. But Narain Dutt Tiwary was unfazed. Noted jurist N A Palkhiwala was recalled in 1979 as India’s ambassador to Washington following an embarrassing incident in which he was photographed helping Lillian Carter, President Carter’s mother pushing shoes into her foot. Hurling shoes as a mark of protest is a common phenomenon worldwide. Only the other day a doctor from Kanpur hurled his shoe at BJP spokesman G V L Narsimha Rao at the Party’s headquarters as protest against inaction of CBI. The BJP did not lodge any complaint against the doctor who travelled all the way from Kanpur to Delhi to hurl shoe at Rao during routine Press briefing. A few years ago, P Chidambaram too faced a similar attack when a Press reporter threw his shoe at him at a Press briefing at the Congress Party office on Akbar Road in Delhi. Chidambaram too did not lodge any report and the culprit was let off. A sitting Member of Lok Sabha in Uttar Pradesh was caught on camera assaulting his own Party MLA in a meeting. The MP was denied BJP ticket which was given to his father. In Bihar Assembly the late Ajit Sarkar, a CPM Member was being marshalled out of the House. He hurled his chappal at the Speaker as mark of protest. The Incident took place sometime in 1986.
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