Sharad Pawar's Slap Heard 'Round India

A slap has made headlines across India. The event seems laughably trite but could lead to severe repercussions across the country.

A young man in his thirties, Harvinder Singh, rocketed to national fame after slapping India’s Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, in front of TV cameras. Singh bellowed that he was sick of rising prices and corruption in the country as he was led away by the police.

Singh’s move was surprisingly bold, considering Sharad Pawar is one of the most powerful and richest men in the country. He is currently the Minister of Agriculture, having previously been the Minister of Defence and Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He’s managed to hold onto his position of authority despite his involvement in a number of corruption scams and being repeatedly accused of protecting criminals and shielding corrupt officers.

The news of the slap has spread like wildfire, making headlines in every paper. The public, on the whole, has expressed a strong measure of glee, delighted that someone had the gumption to openly express their frustration. There are jokes all over Facebook and Twitter about the slap, but this is no laughing matter.

Every leading political party, as well as the Prime Minister, has strongly condemned the act. Members of Pawar’s own party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), worship him with fervor. The general secretary of his party has said the attack proves "no one is safe." Singh has been jailed, and members of the party have already promised to make an example of him. Pawar himself said he “is no judge to forgive him.”

The slap has sparked protests in Pawar’s home state, Maharashtra, and national highways have been blocked, tires burnt, and shops forced to pull down their shutters. The party has even resorted to burning effigies of Harvinder Singh. It is not a little ironic that Pawar’s party is resorting to violence on a much larger-scale while condemning Singh’s assault.

It is true that “violence has no place in a democracy," as Pawar’s daughter has said, but is India a functioning democracy? In India the slogan ‘we are the 99%’ has a completely different meaning. The divide is almost unfathomable, and so unbridgeable that the public hasn’t even attempted to try until recently. Non-violent protests against corruption have made waves across the country over the past year, but have not been as effective as hoped. While hundreds of thousands have lobbied against corruption in the political class of the country, Pawar’s party continues to stay in power and the anti-corruption bill that the movement is lobbying for remains unpassed.

I shudder to think of the consequences of the slap for Harvinder Singh and his family, but how long can the Indian public be expected to live in fear? The people need an effective outlet to express their views, as reports of political corruption come to light almost everyday amidst rising inflation and a dramatic fall in the value of the rupee. Either we oil the cogs of our creaky democratic machine, or risk an Indian uprising.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Natasha Malpani

Natasha studied immunology and sustainable development at Oxford and Cambridge, and has conducted research on cancer stem cells, fear learning and organic farming in India. She currently works for a fund in London that invests in the Asian markets, writes about Indian politics and the environment and runs a social enterprise that encourages the recycling of cycles in Oxford.

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