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Is the 'first lady' joining the BJP?

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: February 21, 2004 17:00 IST
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What does it indicate when a senior Congress politician invites a group of journalists to her house and spends all the time praising Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and mouthing lines that are music to the Bharatiya Janata Party's ears?

Well, with the general election just over a month away, it can only indicate one thing. This politician is all set to join the BJP.

That's exactly what the rumour mills in the capital are saying. Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah may soon join the party she has spent a lifetime fighting.

Heptullah invited a group of Urdu journalists to her house on Wednesday to brief them about her recent trip to Pakistan to attend a summit of 'first ladies' of the Regional Steering Committee, Asia-Pacific Region.

The prime minister nominated Heptullah to attend the summit because both he and President A P J Abdul Kalam are bachelors.

The Urdu press has been full of reports recently indicating that Heptullah has made up her mind to join the BJP. The fact that she was made India's 'first lady', even if for a few days, only strengthened these reports.

All through her interaction with the journalists, Heptullah hardly said a word about the Congress or its leader, Sonia Gandhi. On the contrary, she was full of praise for Vajpayee and his 'statesmanship'.

The only time she mentioned the Congress was when she recalled a cricket match between members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. "I bowled [former prime minister P V] Narasimha Rao with the first ball. His bat was somewhere and his dhoti somewhere," she said with a wicked smile.

The real shock came when she began talking about the Ayodhya controversy. "Urdu journalists will have to play a crucial role in changing the mindset of the Muslim community," she said amid protests from the reporters. "[A] mandir already exists in Ayodhya."

According to close aides of Heptullah, it is just a matter of time before the Congress loses another senior leader to the BJP.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi