Even as the month of Ramzan heads for closure, Iftars have faded away from the political turf. Iftar marks the customary breaking of the day-long fast at the sunset.
Ramzan 2018 is seeing most Iftars taking place within the confines of customary Muslim gatherings. In an extraordinary gesture, Yashpal Saxena, father of slain youth Ankit, made an exceptional statement of harmony by hosting an Iftar in remembrance of his son who was brutally murdered for loving a Muslim girl. The RSS in Mumbai too chose to honour Muslim custom of day-long fasting. The Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), a rather obscure wing of the saffron organisation, organised an Iftar at Mumbai’s Sahyadri guest house. On the bank of river Saryu in Ayodhya, a temple—Saryu Kunj—barely few metres away from the vexed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya, hosted Iftar to spread a message of peace and mutual coexistence.
But in Delhi, Rashtrapati Bhavan, prime minister’s home and residences of all cabinet ministers remained indifferent. When chief minister Arvind Kejriwal hosted Iftar on Monday, Congress and the rest of the opposition stayed away for some inexplicit reasons.
As such, there’s nothing official about the practice but in the past, 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 guest list used to include leading clerics, eminent Muslims, ambassadors of Islamic nations and assorted political personalities.
Out of fashion now, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress, Samajwadi Party and rest of the opposition too ignored Iftars. Although Ramzan has still over a week to run, Muslim community leaders do not appear too hopeful of any party bigwig organising an Iftar.
As if taking a cue, Hindi TV news channels and a number of newspapers have stopped giving out Iftar and sahri (commencement of fast at pre-dawn) timings as a scroll. It was perhaps a coincidence that these developments took place months after a change of government at the Raisina Hills.
The legacy of hosting political Iftars is attributed to prime minister Indira Gandhi who began the tradition in 1980. The secular quotient of non-Congress parties contests this claim asserting that the move to play host to ‘rozedars’ was first set in motion by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Hemvati Nandan Bahugana sometime between 1973 to 1975.
The Muslim clergy is not minding it much. Over the years, many of them had become disillusioned with what they saw as a "political tamasha" laced with a display of wealth. In fact, many Muslim organisations, imams and All India Muslim Personal Law Board members had even given "boycott" calls and urged Muslims to shun "political Iftars", pointing that Ramzan was meant for prayers, piety and penance, not socialising and politics.
Past prime ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, had 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.
In 1996, the BJP had hosted an Iftar. The then BJP president Bangaru Laxman was a generous host at the party’s 11 Ashoka Road, New Delhi headquarters. However, that Iftar became the talk of the town for altogether different reasons. First, there were no arrangements for the Maghrib 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.
As for Congress governments, they had 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 APJ 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.
Iftar’s waning appeal in Delhi is having an impact on Bollywood too. So far, there are no Iftars where Salman Khan could be seen hugging Shah Rukh Khan before retiring to two corners for the rest of the evening.
The author is an Observer Research Foundation visiting fellow, and author of the recently released Ballot: Ten Episodes that Shaped India's Democracy.
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2018 17:03 PM