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Businessman slaps Indian minister over inflation and corruption

November 24, 2011 |  8:25 am

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REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- It was the slap heard around India.

An angry Delhi businessman hauled off and cuffed India’s septuagenarian agriculture minister on the cheek Thursday, sending hyperactive news programs into overdrive.

Video of the incident showed the irate businessman, Harvinder Singh, giving Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar the whack as he attended a literary event. “They are all thieves,” Singh yells. “I will rip them apart.” Then as security guards grab him, he takes out a kirpan, the small knife carried by adherents of the Sikh religion, and threatens to slit his own wrists in protest. Pawar appeared to lose his balance, but quickly regained his footing before heading out of the hall.

Singh, who was subsequently arrested, said he’d come with the intention of landing the slap and was angry about rising prices and corruption. Four days earlier, he’d been questioned and released after kicking octogenarian former telecom minister Sukh Ram outside the court where he was sentenced in a corruption case.

Pawar later said the incident was stupid and he didn’t make much of it.

While analysts and ordinary citizens decried the use of violence, some said it underscored the growing frustration Indians feel at price rises, weak government and a wave of corruption scandals. These have surfaced in the telecommunications, sports, real estate and mining sectors in recent months, purportedly amounting to billions of dollars.

“The reality is, people on the street welcome this,” said Abeer Vajpayee, founder of a small media production company. “In India, the general perception is that all leaders are corrupt, and you need to elect the least corrupt out of the bunch of thieves.”

Asked about Thursday’s incident, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare responded: “Only one slap?” to laughter, before clarifying later that hitting people was wrong.

A spokesman for the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party condemned the attack on Pawar before adding that the government wasn’t doing enough to stem price increases in gasoline and food. 

“I don’t think it’s the right way to behave; violence begets violence,” said Debkanya Dhar Vyavaharkar, a Mumbai-based employee at a publicity firm. “But a lot of people are angry. People are throwing shoes at politicians, this is the latest of these.”

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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: Indian Harvinder Singh looks out from inside a vehicle after being detained by policemen in New Delhi after slapping India's agriculture minister Sharad Pawar in the face, apparently to draw attention to corruption and rising prices. Credit: Associated Press

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