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NDA fields Najma Heptullah for V-P poll
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 22
Setting the stage for a triangular contest in the vice-presidential elections scheduled for August 10, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) today named former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah as its candidate for the august office.

The decision was taken at a meeting of NDA leaders at the residence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this evening.

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said Heptullah would file her nomination papers tomorrow.

She said the entire Rajya Sabha had been impressed by the way she conducted the house proceedings when she was the deputy chairperson.

Asked why the NDA was fielding a candidate when it did not have the requisite number in its favour, Swaraj conceded that the arithmetic equation was in favour of the UPA. She said the NDA would have considered supporting the UPA's candidate if the ruling coalition had consulted the opposition and sought a consensus.

''This not being the case, the opposition cannot afford to leave the field open for the UPA to have a free run,'' she said. Asked about all three major allainces - UPA, NDA and UNPA - fielding candidates belonging to the Muslim community, Swaraj said that the NDA was fielding Heptullah not because of her gender or religion but due to her capablity.

Asked about the absence of Shiv Sena and Trinamool Congress from today's meeting, Swaraj said the NDA leaders were in touch with these parties and were hopeful of eliciting their support.

Heptullah, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha, was associated with the Congress for over three decades before she left the party to join the BJP in 2004.

She left the Congress apparently due to a strain in relationship with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

A relative of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Heptullah held several positions in the Congress and has been a member of the Upper House since 1980.

She was the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha from January 1985 to January 1986 and from 1988 to 2004.

During the NDA rule, she was named as head of the Indian Council of Cultural Affairs. She has also served as president of inter-parliamentary union.

Born in Bhopal in 1940, Dr Heptullah has been associated with several academic institutions.

Political observers here said that in naming Heptullah as the NDA candidate for Vice-President, the BJP has sought to silence its critics on several counts. Having faced Congress charge of being “anti-women” following its raking up allegations of financial impropriety against UPA’s presidential nominee Pratibha Patil, the BJP has named a woman candidate of considerable legislative experience as its candidate in the vice-presidential election. While the UPA-Left-BSP has a clear upper hand in the contest, the presence of a heavyweight in Heptullah is likely to make it lively.

Those who attended today’s NDA meeting included its convener George Fernandes, Janata Dal (U) leader Sharad Yadav, BJP president Rajnath Singh, Shiromani Akali Dal leader S.S.Dhindsa and B.J.Panda of the Biju Janata Dal.

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