The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee, Sonia give iftars a miss

New Delhi, Nov. 16: Trends in Delhi’s political circles are proving to be as fast-changing as those in the fashion circuit of Mumbai. Last year’s rage is passé this year: iftars are out, bowing to the Gujarat riots and polls, drought and the VHP’s angry outbursts.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will not host an iftar for the diplomatic corps, prominent Muslims and others. Instead, he will organise an “Id Milan” gathering.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, too, so far has “no plans” to throw the customary iftar for distinguished citizens. A source at Rashtrapati Bhavan said: “We have no idea if the President would or would not hold an iftar. As of now, there is no proposal.”

Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi has abruptly called off her iftar, scheduled for November 21. Ostensibly, she wants to divert the funds to orphans in Gujarat. But 10 Janpath insiders said “political compulsions” forced Sonia to abandon the practice initiated by role-model and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi.

In a brief statement, Sonia said: “On account of the agony and suffering of the people of several drought-affected states and thousands in Gujarat, whose hardships are unrelieved, I have decided not to have (an) iftar this year.”

Congress leaders said the party chief’s political secretaries advised her that holding iftars on the eve of the Gujarat polls could be misconstrued as “appeasement” of the minority community.

A majority of Muslim leaders are upset with Sonia for giving up a “good tradition”. They argued that if she wanted to raise money for the victims of violence in Gujarat, she could have used other means, such as the Congress president’s relief fund. “After all, it (the iftar) used to be an occasion when leaders of the community interacted with her. More than that, it was a goodwill gesture,” said a leader from Delhi, adding that Sonia was being “ill-advised”.

While heavyweights like Sonia, Vajpayee and Kalam are not warm to the idea of hosting iftars, some like Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and the lone Muslim minister in the Cabinet, Shahnawaz Hussain, are going ahead with theirs. Hussain’s party is scheduled for November 22, Shekhawat’s six days later.

Former Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi used to be an enthusiastic host, but successor Manohar Joshi is less than keen on following the precedence. Most Cabinet ministers, too, said they would not hold iftars as part of an “austerity drive”.

From the Congress, there is only one keen host in deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party said it will host two iftars — one in Delhi and the other in Lucknow.

The political class’ indifference towards a Muslim occasion has evoked mixed reaction. The clergy is pleased that the “tamasha” was being given a “burial”.

The shahi imams of the Jama Masjid and the Fatehpuri Masjid have issued “fatwas” banning participation in these “political iftars”. Imam Ahmad Bukhari and Mufti Mohammad Mukkaram had several objections to these iftars.

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