The incident at the convention centre of New Delhi Municipal Corporation sent ripples through the political class, with all parties condemning the assault on the 71-year-old chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
But Anna Hazare’s first reaction to the news was a cryptic one-liner: “He got slapped! Just one slap!” He, however, moderated his remark later and condemned the incident, stating that democracy had no place for violence.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regretted “the increasing tendency to take recourse to violent means to express disagreement.”
The Congress and its allies, BJP, leftists and other political parties condemned the incident. The assailant, Harvinder Singh, a transporter who lives at Rohini on the outskirts of Delhi, last Saturday assaulted former telecom minister Sukhram outside a court here, after the latter was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment .
Pawar on Thursday went to take part in a literary event at a public auditorium on the Parliament Street here in the afternoon. He was caught unawares when Harvinder assaulted him, shouting slogans against the government on the issues of corruption and price rise. The strapping youth in his thirties waded through a throng of journalists to get close to the agriculture minister and slapped him. The incident was caught on cameras, and TV channels soon aired it.
Pawar, who generally does not travel with a heavy security cover, lost his balance for a moment after being attacked.
As private security guards overpowered him, Harvinder shouted: “He is corrupt. All of them are corrupt”.
“I came to the event after planning to slap the minister,” the youth told journalists. He also brandished his ‘kirpan’, and said it could have been much worse for Pawar, had it not been the “martyrdom day of Guru Tegh Bahadur”. He was later arrested by police and was charged with assault on a public servant, criminal intimidation and attempts to commit suicide. Pawar downplayed the incident, saying he never had any personal enemies in his 50 years of public life, though he might have picked up political fights during his career.
“I never had any enemies in the past and will not have in the future too,” he said.