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House rocked over Indian journalist meeting Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan

Ved Pratap Vaidik, a freelance journalist and a close aide of yoga guru Baba Ramdev, meeting with the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), in Pakistan earlier this month caused furore inside Parliament as well as on social media on Monday.

The Congress disrupted Rajya Sabha proceedings demanding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government must explain whether Vaidik was the government’s emissary to “India’s most wanted terrorist”.

The government rushed to claim it had nothing to do with the Vaidik-Saeed meeting “directly, indirectly or even remotely”. “There is no Track-2 or Track-3 diplomacy involved,” it added. Parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the government considered Saeed “nation’s enemy”.

On micro-blogging site Twitter, Indians and Pakistanis differed with each other if a journalist from India could get access to Saeed without a nod from Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies. While the Indian journalists who have tried and failed claimed it wasn’t possible, their Pakistani counterparts said meeting Saeed was one of the easiest things to do.

The brouhaha made Saeed jump in to claim his share of media space. In his tweets, he termed the “row in Indian Parliament over a journalist’s meeting with us” as “utterly shameful”. He said it showed “the extremism, and the narrow-mindedness of (Indian) politicians”.

Saeed claimed he met “everyone with an open heart, whoever wants to meet; regardless of nation, belief or religion” and said he wanted to know from Vaidik how all the 26/11 evidences provided by India have been rejected and why India does not respect Pakistani courts.

Meanwhile in India, Vaidik got a substantial share of space in mainstream and social media. He claimed that his July 2 meeting in Lahore with Saeed was at nobody’s behest. Vaidik, reacting to a tweet from Congress leader Digvijaya Singh where he wondered if the journalist was an envoy of New Delhi, said he was “nobody’s envoy but my own”.

Vaidik said he put his life in danger by meeting Saeed, and that Congress leaders making a noise in Parliament do not have the courage to meet the alleged terrorist. Vaidik said Congress leaders, if they were to meet Saeed, would have “peed in their pajamas or returned on a stretcher”. “I am a man of ideas. Men of ideas like Rousseau and Karl Marx were not of any country alone,” he said.

Ramdev pitched in to defend Vaidik. The yoga expert said Vaidik would have tried to have a “change of heart” in Saeed. “He is a senior journalist and if in any context he is meeting a particular person, then there must be a reason behind it,” said Ramdev.

Vaidik was in Pakistan for nearly three weeks from mid-June at the invitation of a peace research institute. He had travelled to Pakistan along with a group comprising journalists and politicians such as Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid. However, the rest were quick to clarify they had returned to India much before Vaidik did and had no clue about his meeting with Saeed.

The Congress accused the Prime Minister’s Office of being directly involved in what was a “serious national security issue” and asked for a ‘white paper’. Congress spokesperson Shakil Ahmed said: “Vaidik belonged to Vivekananda International Foundation, whose three members Nripendra Misra, P K Mishra and Ajit Doval are working for the Modi government as Principal Secretary, Additional Principal Secretary in PMO and as National Security Advisor, respectively.” Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said Vaidik was connected to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The Congress has moved a notice for discussion on the issue in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.


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