Dr Ved Pratap Vaidik shot into the headlines after a meeting with 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. On July 2, he became the first Indian 'journalist' to meet the conspirator behind the Mumbai attacks but was pilloried for an interview that only appeared on July 19, two days after this interview was conducted. Did he meet Saeed as a representative of the media? Was the pursuit journalistic? Was he acting on behalf of the BJP? Vaidik, who claims proximity to Modi, answers some hard questions. Excerpts…
Ved Pratap Vaidik at his Gurgaon residence. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
You describe yourself as a journalist, a social activist, a political thinker and orator. In which avatar did you meet Hafiz Saeed?
I'm a human being. If I meet anybody, all my forms are integrated. When my mind thinks, it thinks like a visionary, a patriot, a journalist. When I meet anyone worth knowing, all my forms start functioning but when they meet me, they meet me as a journalist.
You sought the meeting with Hafiz Saeed? He has always been reluctant to speak to an Indian journalist.
I didn't seek the meeting. I was with a few Pakistani journalists and I told them that the army's campaign against terror in Waziristan should have happened a lot earlier and that the fight against terror should also be aimed at those working against India. I took the name of Hafiz Saeed and the Haqqani brothers. They said they could try and fix a meeting for me and I also told them that they should first ask him if he knows me. I said I don't want to meet anyone as an unknown man. The meeting was fixed at the spur of the moment. The Pakistani journalists joked with me and said there might be a drone attack because he is wanted by America and I said, 'if this old man dies in a drone attack, never mind.'
Read: Track 2: keeping the Indo-Pak conversation going
Do you think Hafiz Saeed met you because of your perceived proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Maybe. I can't deny it. Those who watch Indian news channels have the impression that I'm close to the establishment in India. But let me also say that the closest power to me is the truth and national interest. Nobody is above truth and national interest.
The Pakistani press has reported that you sought the meeting saying you are close to Modi?
It would be shameful for me to seek an interview saying I'm close to Modi. Yes, I am close to Modi since I initiated his name as prime minister. After his third electoral victory in Gujarat, I was the first one to say 'pradhan mantri ke dwar par Modi ki dastak' (Modi is knocking at the doors of prime ministership). Time and again I had said the corrupt UPA government must go. See, leaders of neighbouring countries treat me like a professor.
But you were not meeting a state leader, you were meeting the man considered to be the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks. Ajmal Kasab even described a training session at which Saeed was present.
My main motive was to know the man. I didn't expect our meeting to last more than 10 minutes. I wanted to know his thinking process and his plans. More than an interview, I wanted an internal view of the man.
What is inexplicable is that you meet India's most wanted and don't file an interview. I have tried many times to interview him but have failed. I was asked to send a questionnaire but the feedback was that 'It had been drafted in RAW's headquarter'.
You are not asking me about my interview with prime minister Nawaz Sharif? I met him also. I am not a reporter. I will file a column.
Read: Indian High Commission not aware of Vaidik-Hafiz meeting: Sushma
Nawaz Sharif is not a terrorist. On hindsight, would you say that it was a mistake to meet Hafiz Saeed?
Not at all. It was an act of great courage. It was a scoop of scoops. Parliament of India has never been stalled for days like this. I never thought my meeting would snowball into such a controversy. I am proud of it.
Given a chance, would you meet Hafiz Saeed again?
Surely, I'll meet him again. I've met other terrorists too like Prabhakaran (LTTE) and other Taliban leaders.
Journalists have the right to interview terrorists but you have not yet put the interview in the public domain. Instead, would you agree, you have only embarrassed the government?
It's a flimsy argument. The Congress is totally bankrupt and it's they who wanted to embarrass the government. They know that journalists have a right to interview anyone.
The Congress asked a legitimate question - whether you had been asked by the BJP to meet him to test the political waters? Were you on a Track 2 mission?
I wish the BJP had asked me but they hadn't. I can take an oath in the name of my daughter that they did not.
Has the BJP now closed its doors on you? Will the meeting affect your access to Modi?
What does that mean? What can they do by closing the door? I've never cared for access. I'm too self-respecting a man. All prime ministers since Indira Gandhi have known me. My access to any of them has not benefitted me. What will I lose if they don't talk to me?
Read: Shiv Sena attacks BJP on Vaidik
Do you think Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist?
Yes, that is my firm impression. I told him too that America thinks the same and that their belief is not propaganda. I also told him - 'Do you think the Indian dossiers are false?'
You said you wanted to probe his mind. What impression did you come away with?
Initially, I thought he would pick up a quarrel and I was wondering why I came to see him. He was staring at me and the first 10 minutes were very tense. I kept putting straight questions but he didn't lose his cool. He kept asserting that he was not involved in 26/11. I told him innocents had been killed and he was guilty. He said the courts had acquitted him and I said, 'So what? You say you are a jehadi and you should judge yourself by your conscience.' I told him the Quran too is against violence. In fact, I told him he should have the courage to confess that he is guilty of propagating violence and if you don't have the courage, then you should ask for forgiveness. I asked him why he was arrested if he was not guilty and he said Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik was against him and the Zardari government used his arrest to get aid from America.
Tweeting about his meeting with you, Saeed said you asked him if he would protest against Modi going to Pakistan and he said he was not into protests…
He is quite close to the truth. I told him, give India an excuse (bahana) to pave the way for a Modi visit. I told him to support Pakistan giving India the Most Favoured Nation status. He said, 'Nawaz Sharif went to India. What excuse did India give him?' and I said 'Modi's swearing-in was the bahana.' He said he would welcome Modi and I was surprised and again asked, 'You will welcome Modi?' and he said, 'As Muslims, we don't insult our guests.'
Saeed seems to have outsmarted you and used you to give himself a clean chit. Do you think you were used by him?
I don't call myself smart but I told him what no American ambassador or United Nations official could have told him. Sitting in his house, in his den, I told him he must ask for punishment for perpetrating violence. Gunmen were standing there. Anything could have happened.
Read: Vaidik booked for sedition for meeting Hafiz Saeed
By meeting Hafiz Saeed - and still not putting out an interview - you seem to have made him a stakeholder in the India-Paksitan relationship when he is only a terrorist.
This never occurred to me. It's a brilliant question.
You are being sarcastic?
No. I'll answer it. I am too ordinary a man to make him a stakeholder. I can only hope that my meeting him brings about a change of heart in him.
You think one meeting will change an indoctrinated jehadi's heart?
There is a chance. Every devil has a human being in him.
The NIA may question you soon. Are you scared of being charged with treason as the Shiv Sena has demanded? They want you equated with Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab.
If I can answer Hafiz Saeed's questions, why not the NIA? I have been answering questions since I was a young boy. The Shiv Sena's views are based on misinformation put out by channels who used me for their TRPs by indulging in the worst kind of journalism. I never asked for an independent Kashmir. What I said was independence would be dangerous for India and Pakistan and worse for Kashmir.
Many feel you are a publicist and that meeting Saeed was aimed at getting publicity. You did put out your picture with him but not the interview.
I don't care for publicity. I have never pursued money, fame or power. People say that out of jealousy.