Those who know Delhi journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik personally or were acquainted with him, would have never thought he would one day send our Parliament, TV channels and social media in a tizzy, that too over his meeting with 26/11 terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan.
Friends in the media circle describe Vaidik as a one-time active editor of a Hindi daily, now better known as a close aide of Baba Ramdev, both known for their links with the RSS and the BJP. If that is so, and if there is – as some see – the possiblity of the Government of India trying to reach out to disgruntled elements as part of the Track II channel diplomacy, the Vaidik-Saeed meeting should be seen in positive light. In an interview to ANI, Vaidik said Saeed asked him about Modi, who, according to the ultra chief was “dangerous for whole of South Asia.” Vaidik added: “I said that his thinking is not right. There is no need to fear Modi.”
But the significance of the meeting was actually rounded off by Vaidik on Twitter, where he posted two images, one of him with Saeed and the other with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Hafiz says Pakistan will welcome Modi,” he wrote. This is where one does not understand the issue with the Opposition and detractors. “If indeed the Sangh Parivar despatched one of its loyalist, to convey its message of peace, and not at the end of the gun, does it not exhibit the Modi government’s unique ability at global and regional diplomacy? Does it not convince us of the government’s higher intentions?” asks a senior political observer. History is replete with instances of journalists meeting/interviewing terrorists, notorious criminals and scourge of the society in the past. New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti interviewed Osama bin Laden, and so did Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir on multiple occasions.
Shekhar Gupta, one of India’s most respected journalists, while giving his “full disclosure” — in his piece ‘I met Dawood, and I am a journalist’ — that he met Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Laldenga, Thuingaleng Muivah, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, General Mirza Aslam Beg (then Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami emir and serving army chief, respectively), rode a truck at the head of a procession with Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (now famous for laying siege on Islamabad) with a bunch of Kalashnikovs waved around us in nonthreatening joy, met Velupillai Prabhakaran, conversed with two serving ISI chiefs, asks: “Given how “patriotic” the discourse is these days, how would I have explained all these misdemeanours? And my “cowardice” in not making enough of the opportunity. What would I be expected to do now? Grab the AK from one of Bhindranwale’s hitmen and either shoot him or put him under citizen’s arrest? Convert Muivah and Laldenga into loyal Indians or wring their necks with bare hands like Sunny Deol? And would I then be expected to decline to meet the murderous mujahideen commander and assorted fundoos and finally, definitely file a contact report with somebody in the government after that encounter in the Geneva lift (Major General Asfandyar Pataudi, then number two in the ISI)? But file that contact report with whom? Who do I report to in my government? I report to my readers.”
Nakeeran Editor, R Gopal, met notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan in his hideout in Tamil Nadu forest. Journalists have often taken up such covert ‘beyond the line’ meetings to get a peek into the minds of such individuals for the sake of reporting all versions, even those of the rebels.
When Mazzetti and Gupta interviewed enemies of the state, they did not generate hysterical reactions. So why now, even if Vaidik doesn’t fall in their extraordinary league. “Quite to the contrary, the interviewers won accolades for discharging their professional duty with exemplary rectitude,” points out Dileep Padgaonkar, Consulting Editor of The Times of India. “One can question the wisdom of such a meeting but certainly not his right as a journalist to have done so,” said senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan.
It is, at best, a well-orchestrated paranoia. Experts feel the kind of attention the issue is getting is unwarranted. As Gupta puts it, “The hysteria created by a section of the media and politicians speaks poorly of our intellectual prowess. Besides, the aggression on display shows the limited elbow-room the new government will have in dealing with Pakistan.”
“Vaidik’s proximity to Baba Ramdev and RSS, and the fact that he has actively campaigned for Modi during the past two years — allowed the Congress party to paint the meeting in political colours,” says Varadarajan.
May be Congress went overboard in raking up the issue and stalling Parliament, but as an Opposition party waiting to trap the government, what the party did was understandable.
At the same time, it would do well for Vaidik to exercise some restraint. While addressing a symposium ‘Bharat Ke Bhavishya Ki Rajniti’ (Politics of India’s Future) in Madhya Pradesh on January 4, he said: “When terrorists captured a hotel in Mumbai, the Lahore governor called me up and said, ‘Please switch on your TV.
Hooligans from our country have entered your territory.’ I asked your hooligans? He said, the language they are speaking is of Punjabis (Sindh). You tell your prime minister to take strict action against them just because they are from Lahore, it doesn’t mean that they are our agents.” Now, how does this bit of information help anyone? Except, perhaps him...