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]