Parliament witnessed a mini-storm over the meeting of Ved Pratap Vaidik — a one-time active editor, who is now better known as a close aide of Baba Ramdev – with Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed.
The furore was partly born out of Congress’ desire to score points. Ramdev defended Vaidik, and the two have clear — even if informal — links with BJP. The opposition saw it an opportunity to hit back and give BJP a taste of its medicine, given the party had consistently attacked UPA for ‘appeasing’ Pakistan. It also partly stemmed from the sharply negative reactions to the meeting on social media and the electronic media ratcheting up the issue.
Read: Ramdev defends his aide's meeting with Hafiz Saeed
But there are two core issues here. One, does Vaidik’s position — that he met Saeed in his capacity as a journalist — stand?
Besides occasional columns, Vaidik’s days as an active journalist are long past. He has been a political player, accompanying Ramdev in his talks with the government in 2011. And as many on social media asked, if he was a journalist, where is the interview with Saeed? It is strange for a reporter to advertise an interview by releasing a photo with the subject, and become the story himself, rather than publish the transcript or recording or a column reflecting the conversation.
This does not, however, mean that a journalist ought not to meet an alleged ‘terrorist’. That is the decision of the reporter and the news organisation, and the govt is right in saying it cannot regulate media in this regard.
Read: Uproar in Rajya Sabha over journo’s meeting with Hafiz Saeed
And two, was Vaidik acting on behalf of the government or as a lone operator?
Two high-level security officials rubbished any possibility of him being an official conduit. One source told HT, “This is not how back-channel communication occurs. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee used R K Mishra as envoy to speak to Pakistan, it was discreet. The entire Satinder Lambah initiative under UPA was discreet. You think the government can trust a loud-mouth like Vaidik? And in any case, there is no question of back-channel with someone like Saeed.”
The other source added that in cases like these, at best, Vaidik would debrief some politicians and officials about what his Pakistani interlocutors said, but this cannot be read as official sanction. “He seems to crave attention and with the access Pakistanis gave him, he has got what he wanted.”