BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which had questioned President Pratibha Patil’s candidature by leveling various allegations against her relatives, may find itself in an embarrassing position in the vice-presidential poll due to an ongoing CBI inquiry against its candidate, Najma Heptullah.
Heptullah, a former deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha and a veteran MP, 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 an RTI application recently filed by an employee leader of ICCR seeking the status of probe in the matter, the CBI has said, “preliminary inquiry was registered in CBI on the direction of hon’ble High Court of Delhi on July 5th 2006”.
CBI sources say the preliminary inquiry has now been completed and the agency is likely to register an FIR in the matter soon, as prima facie it was a case of fraud.
The court had directed the CBI to investigate the photo morphing case on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the ICCR Employees Association president SM Matloob last year.
“We direct the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the allegations and bring the same to a logical conclusion as expeditiously as possible”, the court 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.
Azad was also the first chairperson of the ICCR and this publication came out when the council was headed by Heptullah, whose claim of being a close relative of the Maulana is disputed by the latter’s nephew, Firoz Ahmed Bakht.
The photograph appears with an introduction and shows a young Heptullah seated along with the Maulana. The caption says ‘Najma Heptullah with Maulana Azad after her graduation’. This gave the game away.
Official inquiries later revealed that Najma Heptullah graduated in May 1958, whereas the Maulana passed away on 22 February, 1958.
The publication was later withdrawn by the ICCR and its revised version is now ready for release, but without the controversial photograph.
Heptullah refused to react on the issue saying people can rake up controversies against anyone.
“Whose life is without controversies! I would not respond to further questions as my party has asked me not to speak during the elections. I am fighting this election because I am the most suitable for the post”, she said.
But photo morphing is not the only issue haunting the NDA’s vice-presidential candidate.
Azad’s nephew, Firoz Ahmed Bakht has contested Heptullah’s claim of being the closest relative of the Maulana.
“She tried to receive the Bharat Ratna in 1992 on 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 Kolkatta, as he was unwell and could not come to Delhi”, he said.
Bakht has demanded action against Heptullah for misleading the nation on her claims of being Maulana’s closest alive relative.