New Delhi, Feb. 28: Najma Heptullah — one of the Congress’ most visible women leaders and a relative of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad — appeared set to join the BJP after a clear hint from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Speaking to reporters after releasing the Devnagiri translation of one of Maulana Azad’s works, Vajpayee said it was now up to Heptullah to do what she wants. “She has to decide what to do,” he said.
The Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson reciprocated by lavishing praise on Vajpayee, slamming the Congress — which she said had a problem of “not being able to digest if good work was praised” — and declaring how the Quran did not support cow slaughter.
Applauding Vajpayee’s efforts to “unite hearts both within the country as well as with Pakistan”, she said: “You are doing what was not done so far. Your effort has created a good atmosphere and kindled hopes.”
Heptullah recalled how Maulana Azad had dreamt of good-neighbourly ties with Pakistan, “which could not be fulfilled in his time”, but was fructifying during Vajpayee’s tenure.
“You are making efforts to clear the debris of Partition gradually,” she told Vajpayee at the mainly Muslim gathering at the book-release function, organised by the Indian Council of Cultural Research which she heads.
“I saw for myself in Pakistan how much love and affection people there have for you,” she added.
Heptullah, a Congress member throughout her political career, praised the Prime Minister’s rural road connectivity programme and said it has not only linked cities and villages but also “joined hearts”. “People are divided, but we want them to be united through your efforts,” she said.
BJP sources said Heptullah was likely to join their ranks early next week. Although they admitted she was not a vote catcher, they hoped her entry would make the party more “acceptable” to Muslims.
Among the other likely inductees are former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s younger brother Ranjit Chautala and former diplomat G. Parthasarathy.
Two former chief ministers — S. Bangarappa, of Karnataka, and Prafulla Mahanta, of Assam — have also reportedly approached the BJP. Sources said Mahanta, who met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani this evening, wants to join the BJP as the party is on the upswing in Assam and he has been sidelined in the Asom Gana Parishad. But Mahanta later denied that he was going to join the BJP.