The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Najma versus Ansari

New Delhi, July 22: Najma Heptullah will be the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate for Vice-President.

The Rajya Sabha MP, who crossed over to the BJP in 2004 after three decades in the Congress, offered herself as a candidate to L.K. Advani last evening when the BJP was groping for a name. She reached his house today with the papers for the nomination.

The NDA, at a meeting in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s house this evening, agreed to field Najma. “It is a matter of pride. I am happy my party and other partners of NDA have selected me for this post,” she said.

BJP MP V.K. Malhotra said Najma was chosen on “merit alone” and not because she is a woman or from the minority community. He said the choice was “unanimous”.

But the Trinamul Congress and the Shiv Sena skipped the meeting. A senior BJP source said neither Mamata Banerjee nor the Thackerays (Bal and son Uddhav) took calls from their leaders. They will try again tomorrow, the last date for nominations.

In Calcutta, Mamata said: “I will not make any comment on the matter at the moment.”

Najma had ruled herself out last Friday when she told journalists at a BJP lunch she was not interested in the “token” contest.

Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the candidate of the ruling coalition, is expected to win easily because it has a majority in Parliament, which elects the Vice-President.

At the NDA meeting today, a member asked what made Najma “change her mind”. The BJP leaders said “all that” was a thing of the past and hers was the only name they had seriously considered.

Najma denied ever having said she was unwilling. “A certain TV channel put out this distorted piece of information and everybody took it to be the truth. Even Advaniji expressed his surprise at how I could have said such a thing. Unless the NDA makes up its mind, how can I say something one way or another'”

Unlike the presidential election, the campaign “will be low-profile,” Sushma Swaraj said. The party is counting on Najma persuading her friends to vote for her. As former deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Najma presided over the House for 17 years, a point the BJP is highlighting. The Vice-President’s main function is to run the Rajya Sabha.

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