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Tuesday 18 February 2020

Overboard Over Vaidik

One is appalled by the brouhaha over Ved Pratap Vaidik’s meeting with terrorism kingpin Hafiz Saeed. Vaidik posted his photograph with Hafiz Saeed and the media went ballistic about a meeting that happened in Pakistan recently when he was a member of a private delegation to attend a conference on regional peace initiative. Vaidik managed to meet Saeed using his own sources in media.

The entire Indian media went ballistic based on their understanding that Vaidik was part of Track II diplomacy of the Modi Government. Despite denial of the same by the government unequivocally, the issue became important also because the Congress, in its knee jerk reaction, attacked Vaidik as an RSS man and demanded explanation from the government.

A senior journalist from Pakistan, Ayesha Siddiqua, author of a book on Pakistani army, was surprised at Vaidik getting access when she could not get access to the person who has been living under protection of the Pakistani Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The US has declared Hafiz a global terrorist and has put a bounty of $10 million on his head.

Ridiculous is the least that can be said about Siddiqua’s statement. Many lesser known journalists have come out with the biggest scoops. None can grouse, ‘Why him and not me?’ It appears that the Indian media got misguided by the same propaganda that meeting Hafiz was very tough.

It is quite possible that Vaidik, owing to his profile in India as a journalist of repute, got access to him. Quite possible that ISI arranged the meeting anticipating that Vaidik would convey the message to the Indian establishment. Not a difficult task for Vaidik who claims to have had access to all Indian prime ministers and who definitely has easy access to Baba Ramdev.

This is not a big deal. Journalists have at times gone beyond their professional ethics and acted as informers, consultants, advisers to government or well wisher of the country. Vaidik did not need any authorisation for that. It is a different matter that he did not publish the interview, which he claimed to have taken in any media.

I was amused that none tried to explain what role Saeed could play in Track II diplomacy. He is a declared terrorist in India. What would India need from him? How can he help India? There is no connect. The ISI may have achieved a coup but for Vaidik or India it could not have been more than a curiosity. Even Hafiz’s best PR cannot dilute India’s stand.

IQAnd why will Modi or his people in the government use Vaidik? The media, which has published private phone records of many individuals as scoops, could easily have accessed Vaidik’s call records to know if he spoke to someone in the government when he was in Pakistan. This could make things add up and make the story somewhat more credible. Will Vadiik give his own call records to show what he has said was not representative of the government?

It was merely a journalistic coup that he achieved, exploiting the perception that he is close to the current dispensation. We journalists do this many a time for small moments of glory. He did not make the best use of this when he came back. The best would have been publishing the interview. As an afterthought and in an attempt to gain limelight, he posted the photograph. And got the best of media coverage albeit while courting the controversy.

What surprises is Vaidik’s opinion expressed in course of an interview to a Pakistani television channel that both parts of Kashimir must be set free after they merge (he clarified that he mentioned Kashmir’s independence only to rule it out with arguments). A journalist commented in course of a television debate this writer was participating in that Vaidik had gone to achieve a change of heart of Saeed (as stated by Baba Ramdev), but came back with a change of his own heart on Kashmir. Now the issue to ponder over is the influence Saeed might have on terrorist modules that he sent to India.

Vaidik did not represent the government view. In that case, how can his statement rake up the issue of Kashmir? Opinions of private individuals are merely opinions. One may disagree with them, but the fight must be ideological. No amount of opposition or chest-beating can replace the ideological war.

Sudesh Verma
Sudesh Verma
Member of the BJP's national media team, senior journalist and founder of Debating India Foundation
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