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It's raining shoes in Ahmedabad

Soutik Biswas | 08:54 UK time, Monday, 27 April 2009

LK Advani campaigning in India electionsLast night, I wondered whether India's shadow prime minister would receive the same treatment as the prime minister in Ahmedabad. He sure did. This time, a Hindu sadhu (holy man) hurled his footwear at BJP leader and prime ministerial candidate LK Advani, who is standing in a constituency in Gujarat. This happened hours after a student threw his shoe at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a campaign meeting in the state. Politics is a great leveller.

Shoes have certainly enlivened a relatively dull campaign. "It's Raining Shoes in Ahmedabad", screamed an excited front page headline in this morning's local newspaper. "PM Singh 'Shoet' At In City," says a tabloid headline, playing with words. Another paper said that shoes had become a popular "political missile".

The motivations of India's shoe-throwing brigade are varied. Some say they have thrown footwear to express their disgust with the slow justice system and joblessness. The computer science student who targeted the prime minister on Sunday told the police, according to a local paper, that he was driven by "instant publicity and not political inclinations". The ochre-robed holy man who flung his footwear at Mr Advani was apparently unhappy that the powerful politician had not done enough to stop the slaughter of cows, which are sacred animals for Hindus.

Mr Advani must be a bit embarrassed though. He now has the dubious distinction of being the target of flying footwear for the second time during the campaign. To add to the embarrassment, on both occasions, supporters of his party and faith appear to have been the culprits.

To be fair to the politicians, all the shoe throwers have been "forgiven" for their sins. But some of their party members are clearly not taking this latest method of protest and publicity lightly. "It is indicative of the bad governance and poor law and order situation that prevails in the state," a glum Congress party spokesman said. I don't think voters in Gujarat, a BJP stronghold, are going to be impressed by this statement.

But the local police claim to be taking the "threat" from shoe throwers seriously. "We had received information three days ago that some people were being primed to throw shoes at [Congress leader party] Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh," a senior policeman said. Another policeman claimed that they had removed a man who had turned up for Mr Advani's meeting because they "suspected him to be a show-thrower".

I have no idea how you spot a potential shoe thrower. Does he have a tic? Does he keep looking at his shoes? Does he move around without tying his laces? And will the police now ask people to remove their footwear to attend campaign meetings? Imagine thousands of barefoot Indians listening to their leaders in the meetings. Imagine armies of shoe throwers being trained in camps to hurl their missiles with precision. The mind boggles.

PS: Some of you have expressed a range of concerns over the BBC's India Election Train. BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks answers those questions in his blog


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