INDIA’S LARGEST circulated newspaper Dainik Jagran rarely misses a story. But that rarity happened on April 8, 2009. While all the national newspapers carried front-page articles on journalist Jarnail Singh hurling his shoe at Union Home Minister P Chidambaram at a press conference, Dainik Jagran issued a strong apology condemning the action of its defence correspondent, Singh. The Akali Dal promptly took up Singh’s cause and announced a cash reward of Rs 2 lakh. Television ran the news throughout the day. Top politicians joined the debate and in a few hours, the incident took a political spin changing Singh’s life forever.
So what led Singh, an otherwise composed man, to such an extreme step? “On April 2, Chidambaram had said he was happy with the CBI clean chit given to Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases. I wanted to know how is he happy when the Sikh community is anguished,” says Singh. A dialogue ensued before the Home Minister coldly cut Singh off citing the “forum” as inappropriate for that discussion. Without more ado, Singh took his shoe off and flung it towards the minister. Almost immediately, however, he says, he gathered himself and realised what he had done. “It was incorrect. I regret it,” Singh told TEHELKA.
It’s difficult not to believe Singh when he says he took the step in the heat of the moment. Friends and colleagues swear by his traits — calm, logical and soft-spoken being only some of them. His action has stunned them, though they criticise the act but not the man. “Sometimes wounds run so deep that emotion can overcome you,” says Sujan Dutta, the Strategic Affairs Editor of The Telegraph and Singh’s friend of six years. “It could happen to any of us under different circumstances,”
It’s tough not to believe Singh when he says he took the step in the heat of the moment
Singh was 11 years old when the anti- Sikh violence broke out in 1984, hours after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. About 2,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone by mobs allegedly led by Tytler, among other Congress leaders. None of these leaders have been brought to trial. “Gross injustice has been done. The police, the judiciary and successive governments have failed us,” he says. Chidambaram and the Congress were quick to forgive him: it’s election time and mollifying the minorities is a must. But Singh’s employer promised disciplinary action against him. (Jagran’sproprietor-editor Sanjay Gupta declined comment.) Singh, 35, has been working with the newspaper for 10 years. He started his career after obtaining a diploma in journalism. Ask about his background and he answers, “I am not extraordinary,” as if trying to end the hullabaloo that his out-of-theordinary act has triggered.
Singh is a fairly good ‘tennis-ball’ cricket player. “He loves slamming me for sixes. Given that he was sitting in the front row, he could have easily smothered Chidambaram’s face,” laughs friend Dutta. “It’s unlike him to miss the target.” But as emotions run high and the aftermath of the incident turns political, it will be long before Singh goes back to reporting news and not making it.
“I don’t know what the future holds for him,” says a friend, requesting anonymity. “We have seen plenty of victimised journalists.”