The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Najma misses culture chair rerun

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Najma Heptullah is out of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, with the Congress-led government deciding not to extend her tenure at the helm.

Heptullah’s three-year term as president of the council, which is the government’s chief vehicle for cultural diplomacy, ended yesterday.

The government is likely to appoint Karan Singh in her place, and an official announcement might be made tomorrow.

Heptullah, who was then the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, was appointed to the post by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Although then a Congress member, she started moving towards the BJP while the A.B. Vajpayee government was in power and finally crossed over. She also hit out at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

After the Congress-led coalition came to power in May last year, sections in the party had been demanding her removal from the post of president of the ICCR.

Usually, the Vice-President or the foreign minister heads the ICCR. With an annual budget of over Rs 7 crore, the council is responsible for organising cultural events across the world to spread awareness of Indian culture. It is also entrusted with educating Indians about the cultures of foreign countries.

Heptullah’s three-year term was marred by controversy. The worst was over a commemorative volume the ICCR brought out on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad a few months ago. The Journey of a Legend had a photograph in which Heptullah was seen sitting with the Maulana and the Shah of Iran, then visiting India.

But sections in the government got suspicious and dug up the original photograph, which had the Maulana and the Shah, but not Heptullah.

An embarrassed ICCR, which had planned to release the commemorative volume during Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to India, decided to withdraw all the copies and called off the launch.

Heptullah, who says she is a close relative of the Maulana, denied knowledge of who was behind the “interpolation” of the photograph.

Sources said there are provisions in the ICCR to deal with such “forgery”.

Although the Congress leadership decided against removing Heptullah before her term as president ended, it remains to be seen whether it will use the controversy over Maulana Azad’s book to embarrass or harass her in future.

If Karan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, is made the president of the ICCR, the council might move out of its present location at Azad Bhavan in congested ITO to the Ashoka Hotel. Singh, while serving on parliamentary committees, has in the past advocated a shift in address.

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