It amazes me how the smallest and, sometimes, the silliest things work us into a frenzy and make us froth at the mouth. The Ved Pratap Vaidik affair is the latest example which shows how, at critical moments, we lack a sense of proportion, balance and perspective. Sadly, the worst offenders seem to be the media and the Opposition.
If you look carefully at the questions this controversy has raised you will see what I mean. First, was Mr Vaidik, a journalist, right to meet Hafiz Saeed? The answer is simple. Journalists have a right to meet whoever they want, wherever and for as long as the person is willing.
If journalists can interview Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Prabhakaran, Maoist leaders in India and Veerappan then, by the same token, Mr Vaidik can interview Hafiz Saeed, even though India, America and the European Union consider him a terrorist.
Last month the BBC interviewed Hafiz Saeed. The British government saw nothing wrong in that. No one in Britain objected. How is Mr Vaidik’s case any different?
Second, is Mr Vaidik required to produce a formal interview in Q&A form or some other journalistic account of it? Not necessarily. As a journalist, he’s entitled to meet Hafiz Saeed, or anyone else, for either an off-the-record chat or a formal interview.
Consequently, the Congress party’s claim that Mr Vaidik should be arrested for meeting Hafiz Saeed is simply preposterous. The kindest thing I can say is it reminds me of the Emergency.
Finally, most journalists I know would jump at an opportunity to interview Hafiz Saeed. I find it hard to believe those who say the opposite. This would be an interview that quickens the spirit, sharpens the mind and drives the adrenaline of every journalist I respect. It would also be a scoop!
The second aspect of the Vaidik affair is his comments on Kashmir. For the record, he spoke of the two halves of that partitioned state coming together with common elections, a single assembly and a single chief minister. He then went on to speak of the possibility of azaadi only to say it would be unviable and against Kashmir’s interests.
However, what he said is mere detail because he has every right to say whatever he wants. That’s freedom of expression. We may not like it. It could be offensive to many. But, as Voltaire allegedly put it — and even if he didn’t the point still holds — the proper response from the rest of us is to defend to the death Mr Vaidik’s right to say what he did.
The last issue — and, perhaps, the most controversial — is Mr Vaidik’s alleged relationship with the government. Was he an intermediary? Was he carrying messages to Hafiz Saeed?
He says he wasn’t. The government insists he wasn’t. Perhaps one reason for believing both is the way he spoke about Kashmir on Pakistani television. An intermediary would not have done this. It would have amounted to an unforgiveable lapse. The fact Mr Vaidik did suggests he’s probably right in claiming his meeting cannot be connected to the government.
To sum up, this episode didn’t deserve the attention it received. The fact it, nonetheless, got it suggests we don’t know how to respond to events we don’t like or developments we can’t fully understand. Rather than think carefully and candidly we convert them into instant controversies. Each time we do we either show ourselves up or, worse, let ourselves down.
The views expressed by the author are personal