The BJP’s famous communications skills seem to have well and truly deserted it. It has fumbled and hedged for about three days over the embarrassment that Ved Pratap Vaidik, an aide of Baba Ramdev, has caused it after his now infamous meeting with 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. One BJP spokesperson thundered on television that any attempt to muzzle the increasingly verbose Vaidik would be a bad precedent against the freedom of the media. Another angry BJP spokesperson alleged that the team that went to Pakistan of which Mr Vaidik was a part was led by Congress leaders and hence the blame rests squarely on the not-quite Opposition. Though external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has said that the party had nothing to do with Mr Vaidik, as of now, we still don’t know who sent Mr Vaidik, whom he represents, what the purpose of the meeting was and who on the Pakistan side sanctioned it.
Saeed, with a $10-million bounty on his head, is not the kind of person you pop around to have tea and cucumber sandwiches with on a whim. Mr Vaidik made matters worse by saying that he had close links with no less than the prime minister himself. The first thing the BJP should have done is to issue a strongly worded statement disowning any connection with Mr Vaidik. But it tied itself up into knots giving all sorts of different explanations, none of which hold any water. Mr Vaidik, we gather, sought to find out how many wives Saeed had and whether he would object to a visit to Pakistan by the Indian prime minister. It seems highly unlikely that Mr Vaidik could have peeled off from the Indian team and visited Saeed without the concurrence of the both the Indian High Commission and the Pakistani establishment.
Even were Mr Vaidik to be working journalist, which he is not, a visit to Saeed is difficult to stomach when we have had no closure on the ghastly Mumbai attacks. At a time when all attention should have been on the prime minister’s big foreign trip and his interactions with the Chinese premier and the Russian president on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil, it is Mr Vaidik, whom we had never heard of till now, who is dominating public attention. The government must put a lid on this controversy now but not before telling the public the exact reasons why this man went to meet Saeed. And for this it will need its spin doctors to be on the same page unlike the case now.