Najma Heptullah: Checkered career in Indian politics

Updated 27 July 2012
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Najma Heptullah: Checkered career in Indian politics

She was a regular visitor to the Kingdom either in her official capacity on behalf of the ruling Congress party or as a guest of some of her many friends and relatives here.
Najma Heptullah whom I had met several times at embassy receptions and private functions was a prominent member of the Congress party. She was particularly close to the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and earlier on his mother Indira Gandhi and Rajiv's wife Sonia. She was Rajya Sabha member from Rajashtan from 2004 to 20l0. She was also nominated by the BJP for the upper house. Najma was the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha from January 1985 to January 1986 and from 1988 to July 2004.
During her checkered career she switched sides from the Congress to the BJP. She might have lost some of her formidable influence in Delhi by doing so but that did not reduce her clout and I have reasons to believe it.
Once the Yemeni community in the Kingdom asked me to help in placing 24 needy students from Hadhramaut in a reputable Indian university. No money was offered and I did not ask for any but I flew to Delhi to seek her help. I met her in her house in Teen Murti, Delhi, when it was still under armed guard with 24 hours protection. I told her the reason of my visit and appealed to her for assistance. She immediately started her contacts and made an appointment for me at Aligarh Muslim University, a five-hour drive from Delhi. It had a good reputation and I remember my father enrolling in it together with my eldest brother. I took a hotel car, which drove me to Aligarh Muslim University to meet with the principal who had already received a recommendation from her to do his best. He did, and within a few days I received the glad news and 24 Yemeni students who could not afford university education in India got the good news about their admission. It was a magnificent Indian gesture and a generous one too as it was free of charge. I told everyone concerned to thank and pray for Najma and the University principal. Personally I was gratified to help needy compatriots in such a noble cause, thanks to Najma.
Najma is the grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, prominent Indian freedom fighter who became the country's first education minister. She is extremely well spoken having a master's degree in zoology and a doctoral degree in cardiac anatomy from the University of Colorado at Denver. She headed several divisions of the Congress where she became an outstanding figure and then general secretary of the Congress during l986 with the additional responsibility for youth activities of the all India Congress Committee.
Why did she switch sides thus wasting great chances with the Congress, was a very sensitive issue that I did not wish to broach. I thought that some day she would discuss it in public, but she has not to my knowledge done so. However, the Congress lost a wonderful member and an experienced parliamentarian who had every reason to go forward to at least become vice president of the republic.
She was intelligent, knowledgeable, scholarly and a good public servant as I came to know that personally. She was nominated to head the Indian Council of Cultural Affairs and presided over the Women Parliament group and became founder president of the forum for human development. And while being in the Congress she went on several missions for the party and the government. I was sure the lady was going higher and higher in the service of the nation and deserved it but politics have their own twists and turns unbeknown to those outside the ring.
Ever since I met her with Indira Gandhi in her Parliament office whom Najma convinced to meet me for an interview I knew there was a bright future for her.

- Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah
Email: [email protected]


EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017
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EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.