Footwear allegedly hurled at Modi’s convoy raises serious questions

Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads International Day of Yoga celebrations, at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar on Friday. ANI Photo
24 June, 2024

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on 21 June, to be part of the International Yoga Day celebrations. There was a very heavy security presence, with a kind of fortification around the venue that was unprecedented. But what caught everyone’s eye was the footwear—the government employees who were mandated to participate in the celebrations were told that they had to leave their shoes behind. Videos and pictures posted by opposition parties showed young men and women dragging themselves barefoot through the slushy, rain-drenched streets towards the venue. If this was a security imperative, it was another inscrutable measure enacted by the Modi government, for which no official explanation has been presented. Another one that comes to mind is people donning black clothing not being allowed into Modi’s public events.

Black clothing is not a security hazard, and neither is footwear. Presumably, each individual would have been thoroughly frisked in Srinagar. The actual reason would have to do with an incident that transpired during Modi’s visit to his Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi, on 18 June—when his convoy was headed from the Dashashvamedha Ghat to Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. Videos posted on social media show a flat solid object, somewhat resembling a slipper or a footwear, landing on the hood of Modi’s car, right in front of the prime minister’s seat. One of his bodyguards, riding on the outside of the car, can be seen reaching for it and throwing it back into the crowd. The video also shows a bystander saying, “Chappal phenk ke maara”—a slipper has been hurled—amid chants of “Modi, Modi.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to social media to condemn the act and labelled it a massive security breach. Having lost his father and grandmother to security lapses, few know the deadly consequences of such breaches better than him. Neither the government nor the ruling party responded to Gandhi’s statement. Even the mainstream media, including national dailies, paid little attention. It seems to be part of the ruling establishment’s strategy to avoid attracting further attention to the embarrassing episode and quickly bury the news instead. If the incident never happened, a prompt and clear official denial by the government would have sufficed.

Modi himself has never been shy of extensive media coverage about threats to his personal security. Such threats were regularly hyped up in Gujarat when he was the chief minister of that state; it even led to some controversial encounters which later embroiled Amit Shah in much trouble. The Bhima-Koregaon case, in which 16 intellectuals and activists were charged under harsh anti-terror laws, was based on the loud narrative created by media outlets for months around a supposed letter that indicated a plot to assassinate Modi. Surprisingly, that letter has never featured in any of the police charges filed in the case so far.