Political Iftars: just a farce?

How critical should one be of Iftar parties hosted particularly by Indian politicians to apparently attract Muslims to their respective political parties? Undeniably, each individual- whether politically associated with any group or not- has the right to her/his own views on the issue. Those viewing these critically as a cosmetic show, only to assert their support for Muslims, certainly have a point. Expressing support for Muslims, through these Iftars, without assuring them security - social, economic as well as political- certainly demands explanation about how genuine their claims really are. At the same time, one is forced to deliberate on whether there should be a call for boycott and also cancellation of Iftars deliberately hosted for political gains and some media coverage. Frankly speaking, not really.  

It must be accepted that these Iftars play some role in making rest of the country aware of the importance Indian Muslims are assumed to have politically in the country. Objectively speaking, though Muslims form the largest minority in the country, less than 20 percent of the entire population, it must be noted that considerable sections of majority community are not yet totally aware about their religious beliefs and practices. The role played by several extremist elements and groups in projecting only a negative image about Muslims, linking them with terrorism, cannot also be ignored. Against this backdrop, Iftar parties at least help others in learning a little about religious principles followed by Muslims and positive approach held towards them by politicians in the fray. Irrespective of whatsoever is the political motive of the parties/leaders hosting these Iftars, their being held certainly plays a major part in highlighting positively an important part of Muslims' religious practices.

 The situation would have been different if the percentage of Muslims' population was closer to 50 or even more than 25 percent of the country's total population. The prospects of non-Muslims' approach towards Muslims being dependent on negative reports presented to them by anti-Muslim extremist elements would then have been negligible. With their being naturally aware about religious beliefs and practices followed by a large number of Muslims (because of their numerical percentage), their views would have been based on their own interaction with them. The reality is that one out of two or four Indians is not a Muslim, but only one or two of 10 Indians is a Muslim. Numerical statistics are such that except for in Muslim majority areas, non-Muslims in other parts of the country may tend to have a wrong, subjective and even negative views about Muslims with whom they have probably never even interacted and/or have learnt about only through secondary sources.
Besides, with due respect to criticism voiced about these Iftars being a farce as they are simply a political exercise to win over Muslim votes, one may look at the same point from another angle. Accepting that it is time the same leaders took constructive steps towards development of this community, it would be erroneous to assume that Muslims who choose to attend these parties have closed their eyes towards the same point. Rather, these Iftars also give an occasion to both invited ones and those who stay away from the same gatherings to voice their stand on issues concerning them regarding development of the community.

 The multi-religious nature of Indian secularism must also be given due importance. Indians of all religions are fairly at home in adding quite a few celebrations to their respective beliefs and practices. The Iftar parties fall in the same bracket, that of displaying the spirit of Indian secularism, particularly when non-Muslim politicians host them. Irrespective of what their main political objective be, perhaps, one should give some importance to their using the occasion to let the rest of the country and world know about the importance they are giving to Indian Muslims and their Iftars. Every time the Indian politicians make the extra effort to display their "secular" spirit, it must be also be viewed as a blow for those still keen on fuelling communal fire and painting a negative image about Indian Muslims. Definitely, this does not imply that the community members should be satisfied only with such parties. They are not. The blow suffered by Congress in the recent by-polls for Okhla assembly seat is just a minor indicator of this hard fact. The Congress may have tried its best to evade Batla House "encounter" and other problems faced by voters here, but the people have not. Thus, while the respected leaders are welcome to display their "secular" spirit by holding Iftar parties, they must remember that however well attended these gatherings may be, they certainly do not suggest that they have won over the Muslim-vote. The leaders need to implement proposals -outlined on paper- and display their success in contributing constructively towards development of Indian Muslims. Today's Indian Muslim voter is far too shrewd to be taken for a ride by only political gimmicks, including Iftar parties.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2009 on page no. 18

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