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Off Limits

Publication Date : 18-07-2014


The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), now that it is in power, must realise that it cannot legitimize the system of different rules for different people. To run a diverse democracy like India successfully, it will have to follow some basic principles, howsoever alien, to ensure that there is some method in what passes for political madness.

The Ved Pratap Vaidik controversy is a case in point. Even BJP workers are probably wondering where the party’s strong positions against terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed have gone, particularly as the weak Manmohan Singh government was not allowed to open a dialogue with Pakistan precisely on this issue.

The Congress party, always hesitant and directionless, allowed even a visit by then PM Singh to Pakistan to be held hostage to the BJP's demand for convincing action against Saeed by Pakistan.

A Mani Shankar Aiyar had to pay a price for lambasting Saeed on a television show in Pakistan, even though they were not in the same studio, but according to the protesters here were on the same show and that was reason enough for the strident attack on the Congress MP.

Now the same party is defending Vaidik, and it has taken days for it to agree to subject the journalist and yoga man Ramdev’s aide to some level of questioning. There are some stark pointers that effectively contradict Vaidik and the government’s claim of the meeting with Saeed being just a journalistic enterprise, one that the government is now being forced to take note of.

The one-hour meeting between Saeed, the most wanted man in India and on top of the US list of terrorists, and Vaidik took place on July 2. Till almost two weeks there was no word from Vaidik about this sensational meet, until a photograph of both smiling at each other in conversation, appeared on social media. Vaidik now insists that he had ‘leaked’ the photograph but the question that he needs to answer is "where is the interview?”

Journalists meet terrorists, criminals and all kinds of unsavoury characters all the time but follow this always with detailed reports as this is the only reason and justification for the meetings that might remain secret for logistical reasons before they take place, but appear in the public domain almost immediately after they have taken place.

There has been nothing from Vaidik to confirm that this was a journalistic meeting. One, his initial observations were that he had tried to “reform” Saeed which is certainly not a journalistic duty.

Two, what did the two talk about, the details from Vaidik are too sketchy to merit comment.

Three, how is it that a journalist who is meeting one of the most wanted terrorists in what amounts to a sensational coup did not tape the meeting?

Four, and how is it that a ‘journalist’ committed to the profession sat on this story for two weeks until the disclosure was literally forced out from him?

Vaidik has not been able to answer these questions, and really owes the profession an explanation for glaring acts of omission that then strengthen those conspiracy theories which tend to brand journalists as intelligence agents, working for masters other than the profession.

The NDA government has also not really done itself proud. How can it so underestimate the intelligence of persons in and outside the establishment to actually insist that this was a journalistic encounter, and hence not for the government to enquire into?

Seriously, no enquiry, no questioning, no need for details about a meeting with a man that intelligence agencies in India should be keen to get every comma and semi colon about? And here a person close to the current establishment by his own admission meets Saeed for an hour, and the government shows no interest or even awareness of such a major meeting until it comes into the public domain?

It is impossible for even a Pakistani journalist today to meet Saeed for a one-on-one interview. Access to him is tightly controlled by the Pakistan government and the agencies there, so the fact it was actually relaxed for an Indian journalist has raised eyebrows there as well. Why? This remains the million dollar question that both governments, Vaidik and of course Saeed alone are in a position to answer.

When facts are not forthcoming, it is old journalistic practice to look for answers then in what has not been said. And there is a great deal here that does not meet the eye. These questions need to be answered for full facts of a meeting that is highly significant and important and cannot be dismissed - except by vested interests - as anything less.

Let's take the government assertions at face value, which of course no good journalist would ever do. But in this case let us accept that Vaidik ventured into Saeed’s den of his own volition. Then the questions the government needs to answer are:

a)  When did it know that the meeting would take place? And here one expects that its intelligence agencies would have informed it.

b)  And after being informed did it get in touch with Vaidik? After all he is a self professed acolyte of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

c)   if the response to both the above questions is in the negative then the government needs to explain its sanguine approach to a meeting, the importance of which is staring India and now even Parliament in the face.

d)  And why even now the government while defending Vaidik is so reluctant to speak with him about this meeting and what transpired there? Usually journalists write such conversations down in black and white, but in the absence of a single write up from Vaidik detailing the interview, surely the intelligence agencies here and the government should have had some sessions with the ‘journalist’ about the details.

 The BJP is acting like the Congress party, the usual ostrich like approach when it has been detected doing something it cannot explain. So now its ministers and party managers are feigning complete ignorance, and disinterest under the cloak of “respecting freedom” whereby a person close to the government and the party meets not ‘a’ but ‘the’ terror mastermind in Lahore in a long meeting and comes back with the nonchalance of one who had just met - not even Imran Khan - but the shopkeeper next door. And then looks at a photograph of both with a “yes that is our Vaidik. Not bad, ha ha!”

The Congress party perhaps has something in its accusation of a “massive cover up” by the government. And until the beans are spilt in a more convincing fashion, this meeting will continue to create ripples, if not waves, in Pakistan-India relations.

Remember the other person in the photograph is Hafiz Saeed, not a friend of India’s and certainly not a friend of Vaidik’s. And the facilitators at that end were Pakistan’s government and agencies.


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