New Delhi: The Gaza conflict and the change of guard since the general election seem to have taken a toll on Delhi’s political iftar scene.
President Pranab Mukherjee hosts one at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday but there’s no sign yet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any of his BJP cabinet colleagues following suit.
Depleting the already thin calendar, the Israeli embassy has called off its July 24 iftar without assigning reasons. “We regretfully announce the cancellation of the Iftar event,” went its one-line email to the invitees.
Although Ramazan has still over a week to run, BJP sources didn’t appear too hopeful of any party bigwig organising an iftar, which marks the customary breaking of the fast in the evening.
Shahnawaz Hussain (R) adjusts a cap on the head of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (L) during an iftar party, in New Delhi 17 November 2003. FILE PIC: AFP.
Barring a last-minute surprise, therefore, this will be the first year since then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began the tradition in 1980 that no Union minister from the principal ruling party will be hosting an iftar.
The Muslim clergy may not mind too much — over the past few years, many of them have become disillusioned with what they see as a “political tamasha” laced with a display of wealth.
Several Muslim organisations, Delhi-based imams and All India Muslim Personal Law Board members have urged Muslims to shun “political iftars”, arguing Ramazan was meant for prayers, piety and penance, not socialising and politics. But the advisories have had little effect.
There’s nothing official about the practice but Presidents, Prime Ministers, other Union ministers and chief ministers have been known to hold iftars as a sign of goodwill for the Muslim community. The guests tend to include leading clerics, eminent Muslims, ambassadors of Islamic nations and assorted political personalities.
Past Prime Ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, have occasionally given the iftar the miss. But that happened because of national tragedies or some emergency, and they made sure that a cabinet colleague from their party hosted one instead.
BJP and bureaucratic sources didn’t want to comment on this year’s trend. A BJP leader who cannot be named said that Modi, during his 13 years as Gujarat chief minister, had never held any iftars.
“It’s a matter of the political culture and the top leadership’s temperament,” he said.
For instance, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan — once seen as Modi’s rival — held a lavish iftar at his Bhopal residence yesterday.
BJP leaders’ experiments with the iftar have sometimes led to surprises, though. One of Modi’s predecessors as Gujarat chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, had served an all-vegetarian spread in 1995.
The party’s current bosses are unlikely to forget an iftar held the very next year, 1996, by then BJP president Bangaru Laxman at the party’s New Delhi headquarters. It became the talk of the town.
First, there were no arrangements for the Magrib prayers that follow the breaking of the daylong fast. When the arrangements were hurriedly made, the namaz was offered in a different direction instead of the west.
But the BJP has come a long way since then. Chouhan yesterday not only offered a sumptuous meal, he made special arrangements for namaz on his lawns. As the host, he was the first to offer khajoor (dates) to Bhopal qazi Mushtaq Nadvi.
Among the BJP’s allies, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan held an iftar this year.
As for Congress governments, they have treated the “tradition” as a de rigueur since Indira’s pioneering effort although Sonia Gandhi, as party president, abandoned the practice after holding an iftar in 2001.
Manmohan Singh played host at his 7 Race Course Road residence almost every year barring last year, when he called the iftar off following the Uttarakhand floods.
Vajpayee too had cancelled his iftar in 2003, the year before a general election, citing a foreign trip but asked junior minister Shahnawaz Hussain to host one.
That year, then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, too scrapped the annual presidential ritual, declaring the money saved would be donated to three orphanages. Kalam’s gesture was widely appreciated.
If the iftar’s appeal is waning in Delhi, its sheen is undiminished in Bollywood. For the second year running, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan were spotted hugging and posing together with their host before retiring to two corners for the rest of the evening.
While Salman sat with his brothers, Shah Rukh hobnobbed with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and Salman’s father Salim Khan.
There’s a buzz about newly-weds Aditya Chopra and Rani Mukherjee hosting an iftar. An invite to Yash Raj Films’ iftar is perhaps more sought after than most Delhi invites.