Is the ‘political iftar’ fading away in Mumbai? | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Is the ‘political iftar’ fading away in Mumbai?

Mumbai city news: There is little doubt that the ‘political iftar’ is special to India. The trend is reported to have started in the 1970s by the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister HN Bahuguna

mumbai Updated: Jun 19, 2017 08:55 IST
Manoj R Nair
In Mumbai, the trend may be dying but there were at least two iftars during the weekend
In Mumbai, the trend may be dying but there were at least two iftars during the weekend(Representational photo/REUTERS)

The weekend, possibly the last in the month of Ramzan, which features dawn-to-dusk fasting, was marked by what are called ‘iftars parties’.

The gatherings, where politicians take part in the communal meal that marks the end of the day’s fast, have lost the prominence they once had. Last year, the Congress party, which is believed to be the progenitor of the idea, decided not to host one — at least in Delhi — and political commentators wondered whether the ‘political iftar’ was dead.

In Mumbai, the trend may be dying but there were at least two iftars during the weekend. One was at Haj House, attended by Mumbai Congress party president Sanjay Nirupam, who said his party has not abandoned the custom.

“I do not know about [the Congress in] Delhi, but we have organised the event for the three years that I have been the MRCC (Mumbai Regional Congress Committee) president,” said Nirupam. “There is nothing wrong with the parties as long as we are not taking political mileage out of the events. We also organise Ganeshotsav and Dahi Handi programmes. What is wrong with that?”

There is little doubt that the ‘political iftar’ is special to India. The trend is reported to have started in the 1970s by the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister HN Bahuguna, who got the idea from his industries minister Istafa Husain. This reporter had interviewed his grandson Tanvir Salim, an engineer who moved from the United States to Gorakhpur, Uttar Pardesh, about this and he endorses the reports that the parties originated in Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh capital . “Iftar dinners had been happening for a long time, but my grandfather and Bahuguna were the first to get a political party to host it,” Salim had said. When Bahuguna became a minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, he brought the idea of an ‘iftar party’ to Delhi, starting a national trend, said Salim.

Others are of the opinion that the Iftar events have an older history. Islamic scholar Irfan Engineer has said that the Muslim League, in pre-partition India, used to hold iftar dinners, though the events were not called parties. The ‘iftar party’, then, is a creation of Indian politicians.

Moinuddin Raut of Muslim Kranti Morcha, a group that had campaigned for a Muslim quota in government jobs and educational seats, is convinced that ‘political iftars’ are dying. “I feel it is declining. There is not much enthusiasm for such meetings,” said Raut.

Zeenat Shaukat Ali, former head of the department of Islamic studies at St Xavier’s College, said that there are not many invitations to the events. “It is waning, very gradually,” said Ali. “Every year I used to be invited to such programmes. Clearly, they are not happening.”

The enthusiasm is definitely less, said Mohammad Zakaullah Siddiqui, president of the Islam Gymkhana, the century-old sports club on Mumbai’s Marine Drive, which has been a venue for the gatherings. Siddiqui said there have been no such events this Ramzan though there were a few last year. “Political iftar parties are not happening much in Delhi,” said Siddiqui who said that the reason was the political parties which organised the events are no longer in power. “The Iftar parties were like a loyalty programme where politicians invited community leaders. The political parties that hosted events are no longer in power; why will they organise these events?”

The ‘political iftar’ parties are scorned by many Muslims who do not like the term ‘party’. There are many who feel that the gatherings are irrelevant. “We welcome the decline in iftar parties; they served no purpose. I do not think that meeting people once during the year will help you understand their problems,” said Raut.

Ali is of the view that the events were not entirely futile. “The interactions, if they are not at a political level, were important. The camaraderie at the gatherings was good,” said Ali.