Iftars become politically correct ahead of polls | india | Hindustan Times
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Iftars become politically correct ahead of polls

It is the season for Iftars, the traditional Muslim breaking of the fast, with mouth-watering kebabs forming the appetisers before a main course of politics and elections.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2003 15:39 IST

It is the season for Iftars, the traditional Muslim breaking of the fast, with mouth-watering kebabs forming the appetisers before a main course of politics and elections.

With the November-December elections in five states looming ahead, Iftars are a good excuse for political outings, and the after-dinner conversation is much more than urbane small talk.

Mingling acquires a whole new meaning as journalists try to decipher the body language of invitees.

Undeterred by appeals from Muslim intellectuals to avoid political Iftars, political parties and leaders are getting their guest lists and menus ready for glittering evenings of fasting and feasting.

President APJ Abdul Kalam is not hosting one for the second year in a row since he took office. His aides say he will donate the amount that would have been spent on the party to charity.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is more inclined to host an Eid Milan -the get-together marking the end of the month of fasting - than an Iftar.

The season began with industrialist Sirajuddin Qureshi's Iftar that saw Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani communing with Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan in the wake of New Delhi's peace proposals to Islamabad.

Lok Janshakti Party leader Arif Mohammad Khan, who has been in the news due to his discreet overtures towards the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), hosted an Iftar on Wednesday.

Khan has vehemently dismissed reports about his possible induction into the BJP though in the same breath he has sought to paint the Congress - his former party - as the worst evil for Muslims.

Either to keep speculations alive or to stem them, he invited a host of journalists apart from political leaders.

An Iftar begins with the breaking of the fast at an appointed hour, usually with dates, sweets and juice. After prayers, refreshments are served followed by a lavish dinner.

Main political parties such as the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress deny mixing Iftar with politics.

"We don't know what others try to do but our dinners are always free from politics and organised in the true spirit of the event," said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar.

Javdekar predictably accused the other parties of politicising the religious affair.

But politics did creep in and spoil the party last year when leaders avoided hosting Iftars ahead of the December elections in the communally charged Gujarat where the votes were deeply polarised after sectarian violence.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi cancelled her dinner citing the religious violence in Gujarat. But Congress leaders said this year she would host one.

"There is nothing wrong with Iftars as long as it is not politicised," said Congress leader Anil Shastri. "We do it out of conviction, not with political motives."

Shastri felt it was not proper for the prime minister to host such functions.

But Gandhi's Iftars have often become a barometer of opposition unity, and Shastri concedes this. "That is because she is the symbol of opposition unity."