Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Iftar parties: an open letter to politicians

(This was written last year. This year the politicians were not so busy throwing iftar parties. Congress announced it had no plan to hold any such party. However, the issues raised remain valid.)

Dear politicians of our country,

As usual, during the holy days of the Ramjan, you have been quite busy throwing or attending Iftar parties in different parts of the country. 

As a citizen of a secular democratic country and as a firm believer in keeping religion separate from politics and as one who would like to do anything within his limited capacity for communal harmony in our multi-religion country, I would like to ask you a few questions. Hope, you don’t mind.

My first question is: are these lavish iftar parties, which you throw or attend, in accordance with the spirit of Islam?

I don’t claim to have much knowledge of Islam. So, I did some research on Internet. I read several very good articles written by knowledgeable people. I would like to share with you part of what I read in one of the articles:

 ‘Ramjan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship…. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramjan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity.’

          ‘Social gathering at the time of main meal in the evening is quite common. It is considered   time for gathering of families and friends.’

From what I read in newspapers and see on TV channels, it appears that your iftar parties are not just social gatherings nor are your hearts away from worldly activities. These activities seem to be as far from spiritual reflection, as the planet Earth is from the sky.

Just look at what has appeared in the media about iftar parties thrown by Sonia Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. Both of them took special care to select their guests and dishes to be served to those guests. The seating arrangements were also carefully planned.

Sonia Gandhi used the occasion to renew/strengthen ties with the non-BJP political parties. There were prominent and less prominent Muslim leaders but the focus of attention was on leaders of non-BJP parties. It was not important how many Muslims attended the party. It was more important how many important leaders attended personally or through their representatives and how many did not attend on some pretext or the other. Sonia Gandhi shared the central table not just with her Muslim friends. More prominent were Sharad Pawar, Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee’s representative Trinamul Congress MP Derek O'Brien. It became news that Mulayam Singh Yadav did not bother to send even a representative while his relation Lalu Prasad Yadav sent one. Sonja Gandhi must be thankful to Mamata Banerjee as well as Lalu Prasad.

Dr. Manmohan Singh, himself a representative of Sonia Gandhi in politics, was made to share another table with the representatives of Laloo and Mayawati. Of course, some of his old colleagues were also there. Rahul Gandhi in the company of Kumari Selja (Congress), Kanimozhi (DMK), and Omar Abdullah (NC) was the centre of attraction at another table. 

It was not a social gathering. It was a pure political gathering. The idea was to show the strength of opposition unity and the strategy to prevent the Parliament from discharging its functions during the coming monsoon session was the main menu. Enjoying chicken biriyani, fish fingers and tasty paneer, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Congress party and former junior minister was heard saying “Watch what we will do once Parliament starts. The Modi government has insulted India with this so-called agreement with Pakistan in Ufa." 

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar used the Delhi visit to strengthen his ties with Arvind Kejriwal. After all, Narendra Modi is their common enemy.

Kejriwal’s iftar party was another gathering   where only politics was visible. It was not for 'aam adami' (common man). It was for VIPs. It has been described as a ‘political blockbuster’. Two rivals, Lieutenant Governor Jung and Chief Minister Kejriwal embraced each other and posed for colourful photographs. However, there was no love lost between Delhi police chief and Delhi Chief Minister. Though an invited guest, Delhi police chief did not get more than a brief eye contact from his host. 

Mamata Banerjee obliged Kejriwal by sending two representatives including Derek O'Brien.Of course, all those who matter in the AAP also graced the occasion. 

My dear politicians of our country, my second question is: who pays for these parties? 

These parties are not simple affairs. Sonja Gandhi gave the party in the spacious Convention Hall of Ashok Hotel. The venue of the party thrown by Aam Aadmi Party supremo Kejriwal, the Palika Services Officers Institute at Nehru Park , is not far from Ashok Hotel. Each party must have cost a fortune.
Of course, when the President of the country throws iftar party, the state foots the bill. I hope, the Congress party paid for Sonja Gandhi’s party. What about the party thrown by Kejriwal? I do not know whether the cost was borne by the Delhi government or by the AAP. The public knowledge is that both are in bad shape. The Delhi government did not have sufficient fund to give municipal corporations their share and the poor sweepers had to go on strike for wages. Whatever little fund the Delhi government can spare is being given to the TV channels to make people know that despite all odds, the Kejriwal government is doing wonderful work. Today’s newspapers say that the AAP has run out of cash even for party's daily expenses and Kejriwal has appealed to the public for financial help. It is also learnt that the people are generously sending contributions.

Let me add that even if a political party foots the bill, the taxpayers also make humble contribution. The people’s representatives come by air or in AC first class at taxpayers’ cost to attend these parties. Large number of official cars and security men could be seen outside the venues of such parties.

My dear politicians of our country, do you ever think that it would be far more humane and the religious if you spend the money on the education of poor Muslim children? Due to utter poverty, even after 68 years of independence, the level of education among Muslims in particular is deplorable. Would it not be better if during Ramjan, you give iftar parties to the poor Muslim families? Delhi government provides funds for mid-day meals in schools. Would it not be a good idea to invite Muslim school students and their parents to iftar parties organised for them?

I suggest, you take some inspiration from a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka which feeds hundreds of poor Muslims who cannot afford to buy something even to break their fast.

       Dear politicians of our country, you may say that the season is almost over. Don’t worry, you will get opportunity next year. I promise, I will remind you before the holy period of Ramjan starts.
Devendra Narain
July 15, 2015

I have deliberately not used politically more correct words ‘political leaders’. In my opinion, all those who are in the profession of politics cannot be described as ‘leaders’