The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which had questioned President Pratibha Patil's candidature by levelling various allegations against her and her relatives, may find itself in an embarrassing position in the vice-presidential poll due to an ongoing CBI inquiry against its candidate, Najma Heptulla.
Heptulla, a veteran MP and former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson, faces charges of having morphed a 1958 photograph to show her along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in a publication of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR). The issue was first highlighted by the Hindustan Times in April 2005.
Responding to a right to information application filed recently by an employee leader of the ICCR, seeking the status of the probe in the matter, the CBI said "preliminary inquiry was registered in the CBI on the direction of the high court of Delhi on July 5, 2006". Sources in the investigating agency said the preliminary inquiry was now complete and the CBI is likely to register an FIR soon, as prima facie, it is a case of fraud.
The court had directed the CBI to investigate the case on a public interest litigation filed by ICCR Employees Association president S.M. Matloob last year. "We direct the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the allegations and bring the same to a logical conclusion as expeditiously as possible," it had said in its order.
The controversial photograph was published in an ICCR publication titled Journey of a legend, on the life of Maulana Azad, a noted scholar and the country's first education minister. He was also the first chairperson of the ICCR and the publication came out when the council was headed by Heptulla. The photograph came with an introduction and showed a young Heptulla with the Maulana. The caption read "Najma Heptulla with Maulana Azad after her graduation". This gave the game away as official inquiries later revealed Heptulla had graduated in May 1958, whereas the Maulana had passed away on February 22, 1958.
The publication was later
withdrawn by the ICCR and its revised version is now ready for release, but without the controversial photograph.
Heptulla refused to react, saying people can rake up controversies against anyone. "Whose life is without controversies? I will not respond to further questions as my party has asked me not to speak during the election. I am fighting this election because I am most suitable for the post," she said.
Photo morphing is not the only issue haunting the NDA candidate. Heptulla's claim of being a close relative of the Maulana has been contested by the latter's nephew, Firoz Ahmed Bakht. "She tried to receive the Bharat Ratna in 1992 on the Maulana's behalf when my father, who was his elder brother, was alive. Following my protest, the award was sent by post to my father in Kolkata," he said. Bakht has demanded action against Heptulla for misleading the nation.