Najma Heptullah: A Congress deserter who made good in BJP (Profile)

New Delhi : Najma Heptullah, a former Congress leader who joined the BJP almost a decade ago following reported differences with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is the grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, freedom fighter and a minister in the first Indian government after independence.

Heptullah, 74, held several important positions in the Congress before switching ranks.

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She was a general secretary of the party and served for four terms in the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.

She also served twice as deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.

In 2004, Heptullah in an interview to a TV channel accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of “humiliating” her. She claimed that the Congress leadership of the time had moved away from the ideals of its former leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and her grandfather Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Soon after, she joined the BJP and entered Rajya Sabha. The Congress decried the move as “political opportunism” on her part.

The only Muslim leader in the Narendra Modi cabinet, Heptullah has travelled extensively to various parts of the world representing India at international conferences including those related to the Commonwealth and the international parliamentary union.

Heptullah has emerged as a prominent Muslim face of the BJP over the years, articulating its viewpoint inside and outside parliament.

She was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1981 and is now into her sixth term in the upper house of parliament.

She contested for the post of vice president against Hamid Ansari in 2007 as the candidate of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance but lost the election.

Born April 13, 1940, Heptullah has a Master’s degree in zoology and a doctoral degree in cardiac anatomy.

She has published research papers and contributed to many Indian and foreign magazines on issues relating to women and social development.

Heptullah has also been raising problems concerning the poor and women in Rajya Sabha.

Her deep knowledge of the rules and procedure helped the BJP effectively take on the UPA government during debates in parliament.

Heptullah told IANS before her swearing-in that “Muslims should have no apprehension” regarding the Modi-led government.