Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Vaidik-Saeed Meeting: The NDA Mirror Has Cracked

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(Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist, political commentator, globe trotter and author. He has covered all Indian elections since 1971 and significant international events. He is a frequent participant on TV debates.)

About two years ago, Ved Pratap Vaidik, the well-known writer-journalist had said publicly that Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only 26/11 terrorist captured alive, should have been tortured and hanged in a public square. That was on November 21, 2012. Today, the same RSS sympathizer, Vaidik, is in the news for attempting to bring about a "change of heart" in the man who masterminded Kasab's terror operation, Hafeez Saeed, by meeting him in Pakistan. Vaidik is known as a "philosopher" who is close to the self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

In June 2009, the special court which tried Kasab issued a non-bailable warrant against Hafeez Saeed, the chief of operations and the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba accusing him of planning the attack on Mumbai and killing over 160 innocent people. The warrant is still pending. For years, the Pakistani authorities have refused to even recognize that Hafeez was propagating hatred against India and was also organizing terrorist groups. Hafeez had also said that there will be more terrorist attacks on India and his aim is to cut India into pieces. 

Hafeez himself has always claimed that he is a social worker and an Islamic preacher. However, recently Hafeez, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was declared by the United States government as one of the most dreaded terrorists in the world; it even announced a $10 million award for his capture. Hafeez is an expert in changing the names of his terrorist groups to evade arrest and trial. But it is common knowledge that the Pakistani authorities, both political and military, always protect Hafeez and even use him for anti-India propaganda. He is also a fanatic campaigner for the "freedom of Kashmir."

Yet, the journalist cum self-declared track-2 negotiator with Pakistan, Vaidik thought that he would serve the patriotic and humanist cause of building confidence and friendship with the neighbour who has been at war with India since Independence.

The timing of making public the ill-famed meeting, which took place a fortnight ago, of the the terrorist with the yogi-disciple, is also intriguing. Almost immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for Brazil for the BRICS summit, the relaxed photo of the twosome appeared in the media, with the bizarre conversation that has embarrassed the NDA government to no end within just two months of coming to power.

The reported conversation makes it reasonably clear that Vaidik was acting on behalf of the Sangh Parivar, and most likely the BJP and NDA, notwithstanding their hypocritical denial. We have only Vaidik's version of the conversation. We have no idea as to what actually transpired  between the two and whether Vaidik has given some kind of "veiled message" to Hafeez. We don't know whether Vaidik asked in his "friendly conversation" about how he recruited Kasab and his terrorist gang, how he runs the terrorist camps, how he manages to get support from the establishment of Pakistan.

The BJP denial about having blessed the meeting is absolutely not convincing, because it is well known that Baba Ramdev is not only close to Modi, but also a guru to a large number in the Parivar. Also Ajit Doval, the NSA boss and top intelligence man of the NDA government, is part of the Vivekanand Trust run by Ramdev. That raises doubt about the claim made by Vaidik that he was merely being a well-meaning journalist.

Vaidik, in fact, has given a clear enough indication that he was meeting Hafeez to persuade him to even welcome Modi, if not invite him. The BJP is red faced because during the UPA regime, their partymen had virtually taken the Parliament by storm and fire for even establishing a dialogue with Pakistan. The BJP and Shiv Sena protested when there was a proposal to hold a cricket match between the two countries. The debate in the House was stalled by noise and gheraos.

But we can just imagine how the BJP and the whole Parivar would have gone to town shouting and screaming if the government in Delhi was that of the UPA and Hafeez had met with someone close to the Congress. It is not a question of a journalist being free to interview or converse with anyone. Indeed, a journalist does enjoy considerable freedom. But clearly Vaidik was not exercising his journalistic right.

The meeting with Hafeez could not have been even arranged without the involvement of the ISI and the political establishment of Pakistan. That makes it a sinister track-2 approach of the NDA government. Hafeez has a clear agenda. He wants to overcome the American warrant on him and whitewash his sins. Vaidik has helped the most dreaded terrorist in the Indian subcontinent to enter into the dialogue between India and Pakistan. The NDA mirror has cracked and now there are multiple mutilated images.

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