The NDA government on Monday found itself amid an unexpected controversy over freelance journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik’s recent meeting with alleged 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in Pakistan, as Congress asked if the event had occurred with the Centre’s sanction.
Vaidik, an aide of yoga guru Ramdev, sparked a social-media storm after tweeting a photograph of his meeting with Saeed at the latter’s Lahore home on July 2. At the time, Vaidik was touring Pakistan with a group of journalists and politicians on the invitation of a Pakistani think-tank.
The controversy rocked Parliament, disrupting proceedings twice in the Rajya Sabha. The government promptly distanced itself from the issue, saying the meet was a private affair.
Congress and some other opposition parties demanded a statement by either the external affairs minister or the home minister, on the grounds that the matter concerned “national security”.
“Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist and indeed involved in terrorism against India. The government has nothing to do with it (the meeting) directly, indirectly or even remotely. The government has not sanctioned permission to anyone for meeting him (Saeed),” finance minister Arun Jaitley responded.
However, Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “Such meetings cannot take place without the knowledge of the officials. Therefore, a legitimate question arises: was the government of India in the loop? Has our foreign ministry received a report?”
Outside Parliament, Congress seized the chance to mount an attack on the government, citing Vaidik’s alleged links to BJP. “Vaidik belonged to the same organisation, Vivekananda International Foundation, whose three members Nripendra Misra, PK Mishra and Ajit Doval are working for the Modi government as principal secretary, additional principal secretary in PMO and as National Security Adviser,” said Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad.
“Did he (Vaidik) go to meet Hafiz Saeed at the instructions of the Prime Minister? The PM must come clean on the issue,” he added.
Vaidik, a former editor of a leading Hindi daily, said he met Saeed at the instance of his Pakistani friends, invoking a well-known principle of journalism: “A journalist must meet all kinds of people. For a journalist, no one is untouchable.”