The vice-presidential election is all set to become a fight between three Muslim candidates. Najma Heptulla, former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman and BJP MP from Rajasthan, was on Sunday named the NDA's candidate.
The UPA-Left has already named former diplomat Mohammed Hamid Ansari as its nominee while the United National Progressive Alliance has fielded former Union minister Rashid Masood.
A reluctant Heptulla was persuaded by senior BJP leaders to enter the fray though the NDA does not have enough numbers in the electoral college. She will file her nomination papers on Monday, the last date set by the Election Commission.
Heptulla has been a member of the Upper House since 1980. She rose in the Congress and was Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson from January 1985 to January 1986 and from 1988 to July 2004. In June 2004, she resigned from the Congress a day after the BJP decided to field her as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan.
Announcing Heptulla’s name, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj rejected Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.R. Dasmunsi’s suggestion that the Opposition not field a candidate because of Pratibha Patil’s victory margin. “An election is the strength of democracy. We have to contest. We cannot leave the field open or give the post on a platter,” Swaraj said, denying Heptulla was chosen taking into account the gender and community factors of the other two candidates.
Asked about her candidature, Heptulla said she has been in the Upper House for 27 years, 17 of those as its deputy chairperson. “It is a matter of pride. I am happy that my party and the other NDA partners selected me for this post. They could have nominated anybody from anywhere. But I feel happy.”
Dasmunsi said the Congress was not unduly worried over Heptulla’s candidature as Ansari had well-established credentials.
Earlier, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had refused to propose the candidature of Deputy Lok Sabha Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, forcing the NDA to look elsewhere. Atwal, a Dalit and SAD leader, had been keen to enter the race. But with the Akali leaders unwilling to back him, the search led to Heptulla. Swatantra Bharat party leader Sharad Joshi too wanted the NDA to name him as its candidate, a senior alliance leader said.