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Sunday 29 March 2020
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The Tergiversator

Editorials

Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
The founder of सिर्फ़ News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group. He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.

In India

Ved Pratap Vaidik insists he has been misinterpreted. He says he talked of Kashmir’s independence in course of an interview broadcast by a Pakistani news channel only to rule it out with arguments. But even if he had not ruled it out, I would not have been surprised.

Because I know Vaidik. And he knows me, too. But we are not friends. Not because of the huge difference of age between us, but because I have mostly met him through a mutual friend, journalist Sudesh Verma’s reference. At the same time, the acquaintance is good enough for this article. For, these meetings have happened frequently since 2011, India’s year of activism by ordinary citizens since the Jayaprakash Movement of the 1970s.

I first met this gentleman at the India International Centre for a book launch function organised by Vitasta Publishing in early 2011. Vaidik was anchoring the event dealing with The Indian Book of the Dead and an English translation of Tulasidas’s Ramcharitmanas. In scholarship, he matched Dr Karan Singh, the chief guest of the programme, as both dealt with the rationale of the behavioural patterns of characters of the Ramayana.

Through several functions of the type, the largely Hindi-speaking audience got an impression that Vaidik was a Brahmin. During an informal chat with us, he said he wasn’t one by birth. But, in fact, this stereotype that only a Brahmin can be a scholar influenced Vaidik, too! During the function above, I distinctly recall, he had introduced Singh as a Brahmin by scholarship, who happened to have been born in a Kshatriya family.

Anyway, my admiration for Vaidik could not extend beyond the appreciation for his intellectual prowess. Some like-minded activists with concern for the state of affairs of the country had launched a movement called Youth for Democracy (Y4D). Verma was its president and I the vice-president. We were rookies in politics; we needed personalities with some repute as philosophical heads. We added as patrons KN Govindacharya, Arif Mohammad Khan, Rambahadur Rai, Maulana Junaid Ahmad, MG Devasahayam and (late) Maloy Krishna Dhar. Vaidik’s name was considered but eventually struck off the list.

The reasons were our experience in dealing with him and the feedback of people in the NDA Government of the period 1998-2004, who were not quite pleased with the way the BJP was conducting its affairs as the chief Opposition party.

384812 10151294023974680 2031443478 nThe first fissures in the bonding between members of Team Anna leading the Jan Lokpal Movement had surfaced by then. Swami Agnivesh was expelled from India against Corruption (IaC) allegedly for being a government’s mole in the group. We did not regard this Arya Samaji baba highly either, as he would emerge out of thin air to express solidarity with all agitations anywhere in the country, whatever be the cause. However, Vaidik was keen on his rehabilitation. He urged us to make Agnivesh a patron of Y4D. That day in Gauri Sadan, the Halley Road office he operates from, he was unforgiving in his criticism of IaC, much as, hardly a month ago, he was going about the country using his platform Sabal Bharat to sing paeans to Anna Hazare’s mass movement. We expressed our reservations in the matter.

Elsewhere, from the past NDA Government functionaries who were not only unhappy with the BJP but were also not charitable about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s track record, we came to know that Vaidik had once turned critical of the then Prime Minister. After some disparagement that came his way, a sensitive Vajpayee called up Vaidik to say, “आप भी किस चक्कर में पड़ गए हैं, वैदिक जी! हम आपकी गिनती मामूली पत्रकारों में नहीं करते; हमने आप के लिए कुछ और सोच रखा है (What a rut you have got into, Mr Vaidik! We do not consider you an ordinary journalist; we have plans for you).” Vaidik reportedly never critiqued the Vajpayee Government after that phone call!

We were — and still are — a bunch of ideologically driven people. Whenever we met Vaidik, we explained to him where we stood vis-à-vis a certain current affair in politics or economics. At the end of any such meeting, we would succeed in convincing him we were right. However, in a few days we would find him expressing agreement with a diametrically opposite view under the influence of another camp whose thinking did not match ours.

Vaidik, with all his erudition, is a personality that is ready to be in awe of his interlocutor of a given point of time. Hypothetically speaking, he is capable of accepting an invitation of the Government of Israel, where he would tell the host that he identified with the cause of The Promised Land; the next day he could be enjoying the hospitality of Hamas, where he would tell them the Palestinians were all right and the Jews all wrong!

It is lack of this particular information about Vaidik’s character that made Arnab Goswami and his panellists go berserk on Times Now. Arguably India’s worst anchor who asks questions and answers them too, Goswami did not let Vaidik offer a defence. Of course, Vaidik, full of himself, needs a few minutes to tell you how illustrious his career has been before he gets to the point you have raised. But every time the veteran journalist — yes, Vaidik is one with regular columns running in some Hindi newspapers and magazines — tried to deal with the issue of meeting India’s most wanted Hafiz Saeed and his interview with a Pakistani news channel, Goswami screamed so loud that the scholar was rendered inaudible. Worse, the channel lowered the volume of Vaidik’s mike in a clear violation of journalistic ethics (the contravention continued till yesterday when GVL Narasimha Rao’s mike was muted). So, in the bout between two self-obsessed personalities, the loudmouthed journalist from Assam managed to unfairly score some brownie points more than his opponent from Indore could.

What action can the government take against this non-state actor, and under which law? Goswami’s argument is that Vaidik, along with Baba Ramdev, had campaigned for the BJP in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. So, if I campaign for Times Now, telling people it is the best news channel, will it make me an employee of the channel? If tomorrow I turn a renegade, what action can Bennett, Coleman and Co Ltd take against me? If government is entitled to such an action, what action should it take against Times Now for telecasting Maoist commander Kishenji’s message uninterrupted a few years ago?

The news channels, of which NDTV has been the calmest on the issue, did not have another piece of information, which misled their discourse. Vaidik is not a Sanghi. In quite a few conversations with us, he would ridicule the typical manner in which pracharaks and swayamsevaks of the RSS used Hindi — a language he is passionate about to such a ludicrous extent that he wants the English language to be proscribed by the Government of India. When we would disagree with some stand of the RSS, Vaidik would agree with us on that, too.

It is indeed gasconade when Vaidik claims Indira Gandhi used to take dictations on foreign policy from him and that he was virtually No. 2 in the PV Narasimha Rao regime without being a part of the Congress (I have lost count of the number of times he has said this in front of me). However, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s point that Vaidik had extolled Rahul Gandhi once is not irrelevant in the debate. As said above, this man hails and damns political positions based on the ambience he finds himself in at a certain point of time. When he wrote, “Rahul jaisa koi nahin (there’s none like Rahul),” he must have just returned from the Congress camp. And this propensity of Vaidik to be enamoured with the BJP and Congress in turns does not suit the Opposition’s posturing in Parliament.

But was the meeting with the chief of Jamaat ud Daawah, a front of terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, an instance of journalism? Yes and no. The way I am writing this article not immediately after meeting Vaidik, one can always use information gathered about a person much after meeting the subject. From what has been reported about the meeting, Vaidik was perhaps following Simi Garewal ‘School of Journalism’, where the interviewer smiles and sighs all along to make the interviewee feel so much at home that he spills all his beans without being alarmed or defensive. Hence the question: “How many wives do you have?” Hence the civility: “Since you are having roza, it would be discourteous of me to accept food in front of you.” These weren’t supposed to be part of the interview; they appear to be efforts in breaking the ice.

But it is not journalism because Vaidik did not turn critical of Saeed on return. It surely looks like another of those embarrassing moments when the jaw of this alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University dropped in front of either an imposing or persuasive interlocutor. Whereas in the Pakistani television studio, he forgot an important lesson that comes in handy in an adversarial environment: How to say ‘no’ when you do not want to say ‘yes’. Instead of going through a series of ifs and buts about Kashmir, he could have ruled its independence out with a poker face.

Important, Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed could not have been part of the government’s Track II diplomacy. A diplomat, howsoever amateurish, does not demean his country by asking a terrorist how his outfit would react to a possible visit of the prime minister of the country the terrorist considers an enemy state. The Congress’s allegation that no foreigner can meet Saeed without the consent of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence does not indict the Narendra Modi Government either. Once you are in foreign territory, who gives you access to which person or place is not determined by the country you have come from. And why Vaidik sought visa for a duration longer than that requisitioned by the delegation, of which Salman Khurshid also was a member, and which was arranged by an organisation where Mani Shankar Aiyar is a governor, is a question for the journalist-turned-fascinated tourist to answer.

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