The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sangh sweeter to secular Arif

New Delhi, Feb. 24: Former Rajiv Gandhi confidant Arif Mohammad Khan and Laxman Singh, brother of former Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh, were welcomed into the BJP today.

Khan fell out with the Congress in 1986 after the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case. The BJP’s latest Muslim mascot had kept the party on tenterhooks, calling on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi yesterday — a move that fuelled speculation that he was having a rethink about joining the BJP.

But by evening, Khan made it clear that he would join the BJP after meeting party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu, who told him not to delay his entry.

BJP sources said the party was keen on bringing Khan on board before tomorrow’s minority congregation here. The sources said the former Union minister was not overly interested in playing up the “minority” angle and had made it clear he should not be inducted at the minority meeting to be addressed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Khan said he had spent most of his political career fighting the BJP, but felt it was time to earn the Sangh parivar’s “goodwill”. “I left no stone unturned in opposing the BJP but I am not a flag-bearer of secularism in this country. I want to earn my goodwill with the Sangh parivar,” he said.

Although Khan would not say if he would contest the elections, he said he would campaign for the party in Gujarat.

It appears that Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah may also join the BJP. Heptullah, who alleges she was “humiliated” by Sonia, criticised her leadership and praised the Prime Minister in a television interview yesterday.

BJP sources said it was a “matter of time” before Najma joined, adding that modalities regarding her induction are being worked out. Her term in the Rajya Sabha ends in March.

The Congress reacted to the Najma developments by saying she was behaving like a desperate migratory bird heading from Siberia to more hospitable territory in search of food.

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