New Delhi, July 14: A meeting between a close aide of yoga practitioner Ramdev and 26/11 attack mastermind Hafeez Saeed has triggered an uproar over whether Ved Pratap Vaidik was acting as a journalist or its unofficial government emissary.
Both the Narendra Modi government and Vaidik denied he was its emissary but a curious tweet from Saeed added fuel to the controversy.
“Dr Vaidik asked if we would protest Modi’s visit to Pakistan, on which I replied, ‘We don’t participate in such politics & protests’,” Saeed tweeted.
When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had attended Modi’s swearing-in, an invitation was extended to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan. Saeed’s tweet was seized upon by the Opposition to suggest that Vaidik was trying to sound out the militant on his organisation’s possible response if Modi visited Pakistan.
Saeed, while taking note of the protests against the meeting, called it “narrow mindedness” of Indian politicians. “We meet everyone with an open heart, whoever wants to meet; regardless of nation, belief or religion.”
The Modi government distanced itself from the meeting and declared it had nothing to do with the journalist “directly, indirectly or even remotely” and asserted there was no sanction from its side. “There is no Track II or Track III diplomacy involved,” it added.
Vaidik had met the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, said to be the parent organisation of terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), in Lahore on July 2 while touring Pakistan along with a group of journalists and politicians invited by a peace research institute.
Vaidik defended his parleys with Saeed, saying he has been meeting all kinds of people and that it was a “simple thing” for him.
He also rejected suggestions by the Congress that he might have acted as government’s emissary, saying he was “nobody’s envoy but my own”.
The meeting generated heat in Parliament with the Rajya Sabha witnessing two adjournments during Question Hour.
Congress members in both Houses sought a detailed statement from the government on the “purpose and motive behind the meeting with India’s most wanted terrorist”.
They demanded a statement by either the external affairs minister or the home minister, saying this was “a serious matter concerning national security”.
In the Rajya Sabha, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that for India, Saeed was a terrorist and indeed involved in terrorism against India.
Vaidik told reporters: “Journalists in Pakistan know me for decades. They made a gesture (about meeting Saeed) to me and I said all right I will meet him. It was no big deal for me. It was a simple thing. For me it was like a normal meeting. I have been meeting the Maoists of Nepal, Taliban of Afghanistan.Ö”
A journalist meeting a militant is not controversial. But this particular meeting has turned controversial because of the grey area over whether he went as an emissary of the government.