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Shoe-thrower gives AAP a minority toehold

New Delhi, March 31: Remember Jarnail Singh?

He is the man who threw his white-and-blue trainer at then home minister P. Chidambaram. That was in April 2009, at a packed news conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi.

Singh was protesting against the CBI’s clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, an accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

The shoe had missed Chidambaram, sailing past the stunned minister, but the thrower, it seems, is on target.

Five years on, Sikh voters still remember Jarnail’s “guts” as he campaigns in the West Delhi parliamentary constituency, where the Aam Aadmi Party has fielded the 41-year-old former journalist.

“We identify with Jarnail Singh. He had the guts to throw a shoe at a Union minister,” said Kulwinder Singh, 46, a government official who lives in Rajouri Garden, West Delhi.

Some surveys have forecast a dip in the AAP’s popularity since Arvind Kejriwal stepped down as Delhi chief minister after 49 days in office. While elections results alone establish the veracity of such assumptions, the government employee’s comments suggest the party is emerging as a possible option for minorities.

The AAP also has a trump card it can wave. Before it resigned, the Kejriwal government had announced that it would set up a special investigation team to probe the 1984 riots.

Budh Singh, 50, came across as another die-hard supporter. “In the 49 days they were in power, there was fear among the corrupt, no traffic police officer asked me for a bribe. Neither did I face problems in getting municipal clearance for my under-construction house. I will not just vote for the AAP, I will motivate at least a hundred others to do so,” said the cab driver from North West Delhi.

Others feel the AAP has opened up the fight. “There has been a change in the attitude of most politicians. It has created a healthy competition, otherwise we had only two options to select from,” said Jasbir Singh, a resident of Laxmi Nagar, East Delhi.

Back in Jarnail’s constituency, at least one AAP rival appeared to be feeling the jitters in a seat where Sikhs — long considered a captive base by the BJP — account for some two lakh votes.

BJP candidate Parvesh Verma has intensified his campaign in Sikh-dominated colonies, stopping to pay obeisance at every gurdwara.

The BJP has also circulated a video of Jarnail apologising for throwing the shoe. “If he felt so sincerely about the cause, why would he apologise? People can see through the charade,” said Subhash Arya, the BJP leader in charge of the constituency.

Jarnail had later said that as a journalist, he “should not have” thrown the shoe.

Kejriwal’s party has also been creating ripples in the Congress’s Muslim vote base, though there are many who are still undecided.

“The AAP left the government midway. But still, I feel we need to give them another chance. I don’t feel like trusting the Congress…. Even kids learn every time they fall, the Congress just refuses to,” said Shahbana Sheikh from Hari Nagar, West Delhi.

Sarwar Imam, 30, deputy manager in Delhi Metro who lives in Okhla, which falls under East Delhi parliamentary constituency, said he was “angry” after Kejriwal resigned as chief minister. “I voted for the AAP, hoping they would bring change, but they wrapped up their government in 49 days. But I don’t have an option. I am tired of the Congress. I feel angry but I will still vote for the AAP,” said the 30-year-old.

Others said they would wait and see how things pan out. “My vote will most certainly be anti-BJP and anti-Narendra Modi. Arvind Kejriwal has raised not just the issue of corruption but also of communalism. He is taking on Modi in Varanasi, which says a lot about him. My first option will be the AAP, but I will not vote blindly,” said Okhla resident Ashraf Bastavi, a journalist.

“I will wait and watch to see whether the AAP has any chance of winning.”