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Loss of appetite for Sonia iftar

New Delhi, Nov. 14: The already-strained ties between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have hit a new low with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav planning to give Sonia Gandhi’s iftar here tomorrow a miss.

The Congress chief had invited leaders of all National Democratic Alliance parties, including Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh, for the function. But the party could prove a damp squib with leaders like Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayavati and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar also deciding to keep away.

Mayavati’s office said the BSP chief is away campaigning in Rajasthan, while Mulayam Singh has written to Sonia regretting his inability to attend – he, too, is busy electioneering.

Sources close to Pawar say the former Union minister is unlikely to attend the party, but there is no official confirmation.

The Congress and the BSP may have reached a tacit electoral understanding to combine to ruin the BJP’s prospects in the four heartland states going to the polls next month. Even so, Mayavati — who has an excellent rapport with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani — would prefer to keep her cards close to her chest and not be seen socialising with Congress leaders openly.

The Congress may be supporting the Mulayam Singh government from outside, but the strains are evident. Therefore, the Samajwadi chief’s decision to skip the party is not surprising, especially as he could come face to face with arch-rival Mayavati.

As if to snub the Congress, the Lucknow regime has invited Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie to address its ministers and bureaucrats on November 27 on divestment. Since the Aruns have been invited as they are regarded as the face of central reforms, the omission of the Congress’ Manmohan Singh, who got economic reforms underway in 1991, appears a deliberate slight to the party.

Clearly, Mulayam Singh, who is trying to expand his base among Muslims, does not want the Congress to regain its political space in the heartland state.

Iftars, which used to be the rage among politicians, may have lost their shine, with many viewing it as a cynical attempt to woo the minorities. Even so, the Samajwadi chief may throw an iftar of his own in Lucknow shortly.

Earlier, the President always hosted an iftar, but incumbent A.P.J. Abdul Kalam prefers to spend the money on charities instead.

Sonia did not hold an iftar last year because of the drought in many parts of the country.

Union textiles minister Shahnawaz Hussein hosts a party on Monday, with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit following suit shortly thereafter.

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