NEW DELHI: When President Ram Nath Kovind decided not to host an iftar at Rashtrapati Bhavan this year, parallels were drawn with former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who had also discontinued the practice. But while Kalam did not host any iftar for dignitaries at the presidential residence, he did observe the holy month, privately, by giving donations to orphanages, for instance. In fact, he hosted an iftar for orphans during his last Ramzan at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
SM Khan, Press Secretary to the former President, said: “Dr Kalam used to celebrate all festivals in Rashtrapati Bhavan and Ramzan was also celebrated. However, his notion of celebrating Ramzan did not mean organising a grand iftar, but giving donations to various orphanages.”“In 2006, which was his last Ramzan as President, he invited about 250 children from Daryaganj’s Bacchon Ka Ghar orphanage for iftar. The children as well as Dr Kalam broke their fast (roza) in a traditional manner,” Khan said.
As for the charity offered by Kalam during Ramzan, Khan said: “Dr Kalam asked the staff to figure out the expenses incurred on annual iftar at Rashtrapati Bhavan and then he accordingly decided to use the same amount for charity instead. We found that every year almost `5.5 lakh was spent on iftar at Rashtrapati Bhavan. So, he decided he would contribute the `5.5 lakh plus another `5.5 lakh from his own income for orphanages.”
The iftars at Rashtrapati Bhavan used to see Prime Minister, ministers and senior leaders of national parties in attendance. President Kalam discontinued hosting this ritual but it was resumed when Pratibha Patil became the President. Pranab Mukherjee continued the tradition.
Rashtrapati Bhavan’s iftar saw a visible change after 2014 when Narendra Modi became PM. He skipped the iftar four times. Mukherjee hosted the last iftar on June 23, 2017 and it generated a controversy because no BJP minister attended it. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the government was represented by ministers such as Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley.