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A BURNT OUT CASE

A journalist could well echo E.M. Forsterís famous statement, after slightly altering it, that if he had to choose between his love for his country and his love for a scoop, he would have the courage to choose the latter. It could be argued, after granting Ved Pratap Vaidik his bona fides, that this is exactly what he did when he went to meet Hafiz Saeed. It could be further argued that it was precisely because Mr Saeed is known to be a terrorist who allegedly masterminded the 26/11 attack on Mumbai that he was handpicked by Mr Vaidik for a meeting and an interview. The meeting may or may not have gone exactly as Mr Vaidik wanted. But that is irrelevant. What matters is that the very fact that Mr Vaidik met Mr Saeed has created a furore in India. Mr Vaidik has been accused of betraying his country because he met an enemy of India who has the blood of innocent Indians on his hands. A journalistís visit has become an issue for making political capital and also for waving the flag of nationalism.

The fuss points to two very different things. One is the scant respect paid in India to the pursuit of oneís profession. The other is the fragility of Indian nationalism. To take the first point: Mr Vaidik was merely doing what he thought was called for by his profession. Even if it were averred in a burst of gratuitous cynicism that Mr Vaidik was only seeking his few minutes of glory and not pursuing his profession, it will have to be admitted, setting aside the individual, that any serious journalist would have grasped the opportunity to meet and interview Mr Saeed or any other important terrorist in Pakistan. Across the world, journalists have done this on countless occasions: interviewed criminals, terrorists, enemies of humanity and other unsavoury characters. It is part of the journalistsí job to dig out the dirt, to try and draw a portrait of evil and its utter banality. Mr Vaidik, it seems, has missed an opportunity. This does not mean that the act of meeting a terrorist should be condemned. In a democracy, a journalist should have the freedom to meet anyone he wants.

This is not the first time that the insecurities of self-styled nationalists have been revealed. Most Indians tend to resent criticisms of their nation. A critical portrayal of India gets described as ďa drain inspectorís reportíí, a study of the myths and legends of Hindu gods is read as an insult and, in the same spirit, a journalistís search for a good story is condemned as a national betrayal. Another scenario needs to be considered. It is possible that Mr Vaidik was being used as a covert vehicle of track-II diplomacy. This is not new, but Mr Vaidik goofed it up in his greed for self-publicity. Those who used him, if they did at all, have deniability on their side, but they must be more careful in the future about the choice of their ďagentíí.