Under sustained attack from the Opposition, a cornered Centre on Tuesday condemned the meeting between Ramdev aide Ved Pratap Vaidik and 26/11 plotter Hafiz Saeed. A full report has also been sought from the Indian high commission in Islamabad.
Ved Pratap Vaidik with Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. (Photo courtesy- @DrVaidik on Twitter)
“The government totally disapproves of the meeting. It condemns this meeting,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha. She also assured that the government had no role in the freelance journalist’s trip or meeting.
Holding up proceeding in both Houses for a few hours, the BJP-Cong slugfest hit a new high after Vaidik’s interview to a Pakistan news channel showed him advocating for Kashmir’s independence.
Read: Did Indian embassy facilitate Vaidik-Hafiz meet, asks Rahul Gandhi
In the Lok Sabha, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said it was “known” that Vaidik was an “RSS man” and questioned whether the Indian embassy facilitated his meeting with Saeed.
"Yes, he is a RSS man. That's a known fact," Gandhi told reporters when asked about Vaidik.
"The question is did the Indian embassy facilitate the gentleman (Vaidik) or not. We are curious to find out if Indian embassy has facilitated this event," the Congress vice-president told reporters.
In the Upper House, finance minister Arun Jaitley clarified, “This is a diplomatic misadventure of a private individual. India has nothing to do with it. Vaidik or his views have nothing to do with the government or my party.”
And Ram Madhav, who recently joined the BJP from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), asserted that Vaidik has no ties with the RSS.
"Vaidik saab has no relation with the RSS. The person who roams around with Mani Shankar Aiyer and Salman Khurshid is not from the RSS," he said.
"In any case Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist. With regard to India he is a criminal. Whenever he comes to India, he will be brought as a criminal under the Indian law and order system," Madhav said.
On Vaidik's remark on integrating Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Kashmir into one country, Madhav said, "Crores of people in this country might have crores of self-opinion. PoK area is a part of India".
"It's Pakistan's illegal and unconstitutional occupation. To free it is one and the only resolution of the Indian Parliament. That 'sankalp' (commitment) has to be fulfilled."
Madhav also said Vaidiks's statement hurts the sentiments of the people.
Chaos in the House
Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha saw disruptions as soon as the two Houses met for the day, with Congress seeking suspension of Question Hour to get the government's response over the "serious" matter.
In Rajya Sabha, the Congress was joined by members of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in raising the issue of the journalist’s meeting with India's most wanted terrorist earlier this month.
Chairman Hamid Ansari said this issue was raised on Monday and the government has already replied.
Rajya Sabha was adjourned twice over the matter on Monday as well even as the government denied it had anything to do with it.
Read: Ruckus in RS as Naqvi waves paper quoting Vaidik as Rahul fan
Congress’ Satyavrat Chaturvedi said new facts have come to light since Monday and the government must inform the country as to who facilitated the meeting and what was the Indian High Commission doing.
Ansari asked members to allow Question Hour to be taken up as Opposition raised slogans demanding arrest of the scribe.
"This is not fair," Ansari remarked before adjourning the House for 15 minutes.
When the House reassembled, similar scenes were witnessed with slogan-shouting opposition members moving to the aisles.
Ansari took up the first listed question and pleaded, "Please allow Question Hour to run."
Read: Vaidik-Saeed meet: When is it okay to negotiate with terrorists?
With members not heeding to his pleas, Ansari adjourned the House till noon.
In Lok Sabha amid similar scenes, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated that the government has nothing to do with Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed.
"Allegation that the government facilitated the journalist's meeting with Hafiz Saeed is false and baseless," Swaraj said.
India accuses Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, of plotting a series of strikes in India including the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed.
Vaidik has accepted that he met Saeed in Lahore, and criticised the Congress for giving it an unnecessary political twist to put Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government in the dock.
He said he met Saeed through a Pakistani journalist and in his capacity as a journalist.
"I feel bad about this because I have worked with the Congress, they are my people," he said.
"I have been traveling to foreign nations for the past 40 years. Does the embassy facilitate all those travels? I meet everyone directly?"
He said that he is ready to share all the records of his meetings in Pakistan.
(With PTI and ANI inputs)