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Modi gives Id holiday a miss

Jaitley at Shahnawaz Hussain’s residence on Id. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, July 29: Shahnawaz Hussain’s Id lunch and an open house at Najma Heptullah’s residence were the only interludes some of Narendra Modi’s ministers allowed themselves on a “working holiday” today.

The Prime Minister skipped even that and wished Hussain, a BJP spokesperson, and Heptullah, the minorities affairs minister, over the phone.

Although Id is a central government holiday, Modi summoned senior ministers Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj to his office to discuss his forthcoming US visit and secretary of state John Kerry’s trip to India beginning tomorrow.

M. Venkaiah Naidu, the urban development minister, concluded a two-day “brainstorming” session on a concept paper related to Modi’s plan for 100 “smart cities”.

Law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he would be in office.

An aide of home minister Rajnath Singh said his boss would “work out of home”.

Barring Modi, the others — Jaitley, Rajnath, Prasad, Naidu and environment minister Prakash Javadekar among them — made it a point to attend the lunch hosted by Hussain.

The Bihar leader was carrying on a legacy. As minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, he had been asked by the then Prime Minister to hold the government’s official iftars. But Hussain continued hosting the Id events even after the BJP was voted out in 2004.

Hussain’s iftars were a big draw for the Opposition. Indeed, UPA leaders Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad rarely missed the party.

Sources attributed the eclectic representation largely to Hussain’s genial personality and partly to the fact that he was then among a handful of BJP Muslim MPs.

This Ramazan is the first time Hussain did not have an official iftar. A signal from the top? Modi, too, did not host one. A source close to Hussain claimed he was “preoccupied” with the forthcoming Bihar bypolls and opted for a low-key “luncheon” instead on Id.

Some of Hussain’s guests, like Jaitley, had back-to-back treats. The finance and defence minister later headed to Najma’s home where she laid out a spread of chaats. Meat kebabs and korma, usually served on Id, were missing from Najma’s table.

Food seemed far from the mind of Modi, whose other engagements included a meeting with Mitsubishi CEO Kew Kobayashi and an address at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.