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India Takes Shoe-Throwing And Runs With It

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There's a new trend afoot in India, where millions are voting today in the second phase of that country's general election. It began when former President George Bush had to dodge flying shoes in Iraq. Now Indian politicians are diving for cover. NPR's Philip Reeves brings us this postcard from India.

PHILIP REEVES: This is a story everyone knew would happen. It was inevitable from the moment that journalist's shoe arced through the air towards President George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad. After that, it was only a matter of time before footwear started flying in India.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that Indians really know how to throw stuff. They start playing cricket from the moment they can stand. And cricket, like baseball, is all about throwing. If William Tell had been an Indian, he'd have knocked the apple off that kid's head with a ball, not an arrow. The second, more serious reason is a bit of a paradox. Indians are generally proud of their democracy, which is the world's largest.

At the moment, they're voting in a general election staggered over a month. The turnout will be high by world standards. Yet many Indians don't seem to think much of their politicians. They see many of them as out of touch, corrupt, inept, or even as outright criminals - deserving targets, in other words, for shoes.

In the last few weeks, footwear has been thrown at the home minister, at the leader of the biggest opposition party, at a lawmaker from the ruling party, and at a Bollywood actor out on the campaign trail.

Politicians are getting worried. There are reports that some political parties are asking supporters to take off their shoes before allowing them into election rallies, and that one even erected a net to catch airborne footwear.

So far, oddly, the shoe throwers have missed their targets. This may have been deliberate. But the other day an Indian TV news channel aired footage of some villagers throwing shoes at the effigy of a politician. The anchor said they were practicing.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.