The capital’s iftar parties are falling into a rut. It is observed that a token representation from Old Delhi and senior bureaucrats and politicians are invited to mingle at beautifully laid-out sophisticated buffets. The idea is perhaps to show that politicians are one with the minority community. And of course the only indicator of the communal harmony is, that Mughlai cuisine!
It is believed that these iftar parties began some time in 1975 after the Turkuman Gate riots during the Emergency. Late Inder Mohan, the PUCL activist used to tell me that in order to appease the angry Muslims of Delhi, at the behest of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Indira Gandhi started these iftar parties. This gave birth to the tradition of the ‘iftar diplomacy.’ At the beginning, the people invited included a selective gathering of the foreign ambassadors and diplomats, top politicians, celebrities from the fields of media, sports, film, business etc. Mrs. Gandhi’s plea was that such parties provide an opportunity to mix with the public and, moreover, it was for a festive cause.
Maulana Jameel Ilyasi, the president of the ‘All India Imam’s Association,’ is optimistic about such iftar functions. He believes that these iftars create an air of better understanding between the people of various communities and that they are truly secular. ‘Iftar dinner parties began in Delhi's political circle when Mrs Gandhi was wooing Muslims. But now they have become mandatory especially for the ruling party,’ states Abdul Wajood Sajid, the assistant editor of the Nai Dunia Urdu weekly.
Iftar, like all else in the land of Cielos and cellular-weilding cronies, has been transformed over the years. In today’s iftars we find that tradition has given way to designer decorations and the miyan bhais of Delhi's glitterati! The food, too, has been adapted to various tastes with Punjabi being in the driver’s seat — Amritsari fish amidst sheermal and Mutton Qorma. For the culinarily challenged, it is time to relish the joys of the palate. The other difference today is that earlier a select list of known people was prepared and it was more effusive as the person inviting for iftar knew every face present.
The way iftar invitations are sent today is something just ridiculous! One person in the office prepares the list. Another dispatches them. Yet another one receives invitees at the gate. So for the minister holding this iftar becomes quite embarrassing to meet people he himself hasn’t invited. It becomes a very impersonal affair. After Congress, every party arranged political iftars ‘religiously.’
The original purpose of the iftar congregations basically was to serve food to the downtrodden, the deprived and the travellers. By indulging in iftar diplomacy, politicians make a mockery of this otherwise very solemn and dignified rite.
A lot of wheeling and dealing takes place in these iftars of diplomacy. Some fundamentalists accuse that Muslims are being appeased. Fasting, in one form or the other, is a feature of every religion of the world. They wonder why the fast festivity of other religions isn’t taken seriously. Mufti Mukarram Ahmad, the Imam of the Shahi Fatehpuri Masjid of Delhi, states that iftar is a thoroughly religious and personal activity and that it should not be interfered in a political manner that is abhorring.
Khwaja Iftekhar Ahmad, a pious rozedar, hates the politicization of iftar and points out that more than 90 percent people at such iftars do not observe fast. Besides, fast is nullified if the iftar material is bought from money got by bribes. Ahmad wants that this to stop.