Mufti Sayeed’s Iftar Party A Big Draw
2 December 2002
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: In the Iftar parties-starved national capital, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Iftar get-together at New Delhi’s five-star Ashok Hotel turned out to be a fairly big draw. Almost everybody who is anybody connected with the turbulent state in New Delhi turned up on the occasion. It was also a sort of victory celebrations for Mufti in what was his first trip to the Capital after becoming the Chief Minister and planning his fledgling outfit People’s Democratic Party’s dramatic march to power at the expense of the National Conference. Sonia Gandhi, Congress president and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, former Prime Ministers Vishwanath Pratap Singh (in whose Cabinet Mufti was the Home Minister) and Inder Kumar Gujral were among many celebrities who were present. Although Union Minister of State for Defence Chaman Lal Gupta attended the Iftar, there was a feeling among many present that the central ruling leadership could have enhanced the level of participation. Gupta as a senior leader is identified more with the State to which he belongs. On the other hand, Congress leaders were present in strength. They included Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah, Manmohan Singh, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and Arjun Singh, who is credited with having worked out the tie-up between the PDP and the Congress facilitating Mufti’s emergence as the Chief Minister. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit also put in an appearance. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Pradesh Congress president and head of the coordination committee of his party and the PDP, was present along with his wife. Party stalwarts belonging to the State namely Karan Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar also turned up on the occasion as did Saifuddin Soz and Taj Mohiuddin along with a host of other leaders. The National Conference was represented by, among others Abdul Rashid Shaheen and Hasan Khan, both Lok Sabha members. Strong official presence included A.S. Dullat, Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister’s Office, K. Padmnabhaiah, Centre’s interlocutor on Nagaland, and K.N. Singh, Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau apart from quite a few other senior administrative and army officers. Almost all members of the highly-publicised Kashmir Committee, including its chief, Ram Jethmalani, could be spotted in the gathering. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Adarsh Anand, Kuldip Nayar, Balraj Puri, Mohammad Afzal, Talib Hussain, Rajendra Singh Chib and R.S. Jamwal, Chief of Staff, 11 Corps, were among the other distinguished persons present. By all standards it was a decent affair. Apart from Mufti, who was profusely congratulated, his politician-daughter Mehbooba was the centre of attention. Law Minister Muzaffar Beig, Chief Secretary Sudhir Bloeria and Secretary to Chief Minister Iqbal Khandey kept a careful watch over the guests and the arrangements ensuring that every thing went off smoothly. Iftar parties in the national capital are not the flavour of the season this winter. President Abdul Kalam has not held the one at the Rashtrapati Bhawan; in a laudable move he has decided to divert money to orphanages. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has also kept away from hosting one. So has Sonia Gandhi, Congress president and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Mufti’s was the third Iftar party so far here, the first two having been organised by Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz and former Union minister Ramvilas Paswan. Everybody is tight-lipped about the reasons for not hosting Iftar parties this Ramzan. There are different interpretrations. One is that the shadow of communal riots in Gujarat is looming large over the national capital. The general impression is that the Prime Minister has taken a serious view of the State Government’s failure to perform its ‘dharma’. The other intepretration is that the majority of political parties having stakes in the Assembly polls in Gujarat — the State is due to go to polls on December 12 — feels that holding and publicising Iftar parties would alienate the majority community in the State. Yet, a third interpretation is that fundmentalists believe that these parties dilute the religious significance of the occasion and are best avoided. The experience over the years shows that these parties are mostly social and political get-togethers. Politicians, bureaucrats and media persons hop from one party to the other to seize political gossip and savour exquisite cuisine. Having been deprived of all this so far, all of them made a beeline for Mufti’s party — with a prayer on their lips that the man deserves good luck for the challenging task he has taken upon himself of winning over the alienated youth.