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Not for politics

As the head of a secular republic, the president of India should not associate himself with any kind of religious activity

The president of India recently held an iftar party at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Iftar, as will be known, is the ritual breaking of the daily fast during the month of Ramazan. For the devout, it is a solemn occasion for sharing food before the fast begins at sunrise the next day. In India, especially in New Delhi, the performance of a ritual has been transformed into an occasion for political fraternizing. What needs underlining here is the fact that the president, who should stand aside from and be higher than all political considerations, actually hosted an iftar party following in the footsteps of other political leaders. The president of India is the head of a secular republic. This means that he should not, as a holder of this high office, associate himself with any kind of religious activity. His own religious views and practices should remain his private affair. Pranab Mukherjee, as the president of India, has thus not brought dignity to his office by hosting an iftar meal. He has not been known to have ever invited people to a Christmas lunch or dinner. Thus his arranging an iftar meal in the official residence of the Indian head of state has a certain significance.

Mr Mukherjee cannot make the argument that this was a private affair. It was an official event under the purview of the protocols that govern activities within Rashtrapati Bhavan. In other words, it was paid for by the exchequer, that is, by the taxpayer. Yet it should not have been an official event since the president of India should not officially participate in any religious activity as he holds a secular office. If he were to take part in the religious ritual of any one religious group, he would, in all propriety, take part in the rituals of every religious group in India. This would leave him with very little time to devote to his constitutional duties and obligations. As suggested at the end of the previous paragraph, Mr Mukherjee's iftar meal has other meanings and purposes. These can only be political since the purpose could not have been the winning of friends and the influencing of people.

Iftar as political play ill suits the president since he has no need to woo or to make special gestures to any group, religious or otherwise, in India. All Indians should be same and equal in his eyes. It would not be unfair to assume that Mr Mukherjee was not keeping a Ramazan fast - so the iftar could not have been an occasion to break the fast. (It should be mentioned though that if Mr Mukherjee and other political leaders did periodically keep a ritual fast they would lead healthier lives. Moreover, male political leaders, suitably reduced after a fast, would look more presentable in a bandhgala!) Mr Mukherjee was thus not hosting an iftar party out of a sincere belief but for reasons of political expediency. The prime minister, by staying away, displayed a modicum of sincerity. The president should set standards for the republic. He has failed to do so.

Opinion

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