| Shahnawaz Hussain (left) with Mamata Banerjee and his wife at the iftar in New Delhi on Friday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Nov. 22: The Islamic clergy may have expressed its reservations about lavish iftars and Sonia Gandhi may have decided that the occasion should be celebrated in its right spirit — by sharing with the poor. But the BJP’s lone Muslim minister at the Centre, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, chose to hold an iftar in style.
His iftar today — the season’s first — had film stars, politicians, celebrity writers, imams, and three former Prime Ministers besides Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a fez under one sky.
Hoi polloi, which broke its fast with dates, pakoras and dahi bhallas, did not pay much attention to politicians streaming into the VIP enclosure, which was cordoned off by iron railings.
The presence of film stars from yesteryears like Sanjay Khan, a scarcely recognisable Reena Roy, an ailing Sunil Dutt and actor-politician Raj Babbar did not make a difference either. Until Raveena Tandon, Anil Kapoor and Johnny Lever entered to electrify the evening.
The guests immediately left their tables and fell over one another to catch a glimpse of Raveena and Anil in conversation with Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Amar Singh or picking on cubes of pethas and kebabs.
However, there was one person who gave the stars serious competition — Laloo Prasad Yadav arrived in his trademark crumpled pyjama-kurta and effortlessly walked into the limelight.
Surrounded by admirers who lapped up every word he uttered, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief said: “I will start my Gujarat campaign from Dwarka and take a solemn pledge to vanquish that Kansa named Narendra Modi.”
There was no thunderous applause, but the enthralled faces said it all. Even Sanjay Khan, who sat next to him and looked distinctly uncomfortable as Laloo Prasad kept emptying gobs of paan remains into a spittoon held by an aide, broke into a smile.
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee refused to enter the VIP enclosure and seemed quite content to be in the company of maulvis.
Although reporters had been told that Vajpayee would speak to them, the Prime Minister did not say a word.
An aide said this was because Parliament was in session. But reporters who have been covering Hussain’s iftars for the last two years recalled how Vajpayee had made important statements on Ayodhya on these occasions even though the Parliament session was on.
BJP sources said Hussain’s would be the only official iftar the government and the party would be hosting.