Even a novice understands the politics behind throwing a sumptuous Iftaar feast by Nitish Kumar at his official residence as the Chief Minister of Bihar. He’s not the only politician to have done so. The Congress CMs, and his foe-turned-mentor Lalu before him, had routinely hosted Iftaar or Eid-ul-Fitra party at the conclusion of the holy month of Ramazan. The leaders of the BJP, a party reputed as unfriendly to Muslims also break bread with the Muslim invitees on this occasion.
Over the years, Ramazan in India followed by Eid, has become one of the most important national festivals just as Holi or Deepawali. People of all religion, their families and friends visit, greet, dine and mingle with each other.
Festivals celebrating friendship and brotherhood are always something to rejoice about.
However, if the occupier of a constitutional position in the State holds an expensive, by-invitation- only event like Iftaar party at his official residence, it raises a few uncomfortable questions: It’s not clear from where the payments of the bills for hosting a lavish feast for one thousand guests, as reported, came from: the CM’s salary or the state exchequer (that is, the tax payers’ money)? It’s problematic in both cases and the taxpaying citizens have the right and the duty to express their curiosity about the details.
Secondly, if the invitation went out from the CM’s office, what were the criteria for the invitees? From the optics of the get-together, it’s quite apparent only the political or social favorites of Nitish Kumar were in attendance. A perfect environment was, therefore, created to generate envy, jealousy, bad blood and all kinds of speculation: Who were invited or not invited, who showed up or who abstained. The ones who were included in the list of invitees felt more favored than others; at the same time, those who expected but weren’t asked for must have felt left out, if not humiliated.
All this is against the spirit of Ramazan. Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister, ought to know that the month-long rigorous Ramazan fasting during the days is a deep spiritual exercise in self-control. It’s a Divine commandment to keep reminding yourself of the needs of others, especially of those who go to sleep hungry anywhere on the planet. And to put others’ needs above yours.
Over the centuries, this religious period has acquired all the trappings of an extravagant festival, but knowledgeable practicing Muslims in this day and age also engage in a month-long restraint on physical and material requirements, embrace self-denial of basic satisfaction of hunger in order to attain self-improvement and ‘guard against evil.’ In this manner, as the religious philosophy goes, a person gets close to the almighty (God, Ishwar, or Allah) and becomes His true follower, competent enough to serve the poorest of the poor.
In fasting, therefore, we learn to give up what legitimately belongs to us, refrain from usurping others’ rights and belongings and learn how to be honest to the dictates of the Highest authority, his truth and justice. Fasting and prayer, therefore, must afford us time and space to introspect, liberate us to do charity with generosity and fuel our resolve to fight injustice and unfairness by non-violent means.
It was with profound significance that, besides Prophet Muhammad, founders of major world religion and statesmen -- from Buddha, Moses or Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi -- all emphasized the value of observing fast and prayer. Fasting and prayer, Gandhi said, are a most “powerful process of purification” that should enable us “to do our duty and attain our goal.”
Against this pious backdrop, Nitish Kumar, whose picture in white cap and Saudi scarf offering namaz with his Muslim guests that appears annually, looks very hypocritical and deceitful, to say the least.
The Biharis don’t know whether Nitish observes the Ramazan fast or not. It would have been a lot better, if he had taken his friends and supporters to a poor Muslim neighborhood, broken loaves and prayed with them there. After all, he claims to be a Socialist of Gandhi, Lohia and Jayaprakash philosophy.
Writing in Young India on March 24, 1920, Gandhi had observed, “.A fast to be true must be accompanied by a readiness to receive pure thoughts and determination to resist all Satan’s temptation. Similarly a prayer to be true has to be intelligible and definite...Counting beads with the name of Allah on one’s lips whilst the mind wanders in all directions is worse than useless.”
Next time, therefore, when Nitish stands in prayer before the Allah, he should ask himself: Has he not abdicated the path of truth and honesty by embracing the satanic forces whose only conviction is to promote dynastic-nepotism, favoritism, or embezzlement, just to keep himself seated in power? Has he not knowingly given party tickets to people who didn’t deserve to be the lawmakers (legislators) and who, one after another, have proven embarrassment to him? Nitish should ask himself what efforts has he made to attract characterful, educated and sincere young men and women who would stand in the next line of leadership in Bihar. Has he not over the years made such people in-charge of Bihar education who have ruined it from primary to the university level, his boasting of bicycles and mid-day meal notwithstanding?
The eternal truth is that the forgiving Allah knows the difference between ritualistic fast and prayers and the ones originating from the heart. The fast and prayer by millions done with honesty, sincerity, conviction and devotion will certainly be answered.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.