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Hafiz-Vaidik meeting: Before Vaidik-Saeed derailment, it was Track 2, some help from Mani Shankar Aiyar

Salman Khurshid, was also on the trip, along with several media personalities.

Vaidik and the others travelled to Pakistan at the invitation of Regional Peace Institute, Islamabad, for an Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue, a Track 2 intiative. Aiyar is on the institute’s board of governors. Source: Express photo Vaidik and the others travelled to Pakistan at the invitation of Regional Peace Institute, Islamabad, for an Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue, a Track 2 intiative. Aiyar is on the institute’s board of governors. Source: Express photo

The Congress expressed outrage on Monday over Ved Pratap Vaidik’s meeting last month with Hafiz Saeed, disrupting Parliament and accusing the Prime Minister’s Office of being “directly involved”, but the trip to Pakistan on which Baba Ramdev’s close aide met with the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba was, in fact, coordinated by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Another senior Congress leader and former cabinet minister, Salman Khurshid, was also on the trip, along with several media personalities.

Vaidik and the others travelled to Pakistan at the invitation of Regional Peace Institute, Islamabad, for an Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue, a Track 2 intiative. Aiyar is on the institute’s board of governors.

Khurshid said on Monday that Vaidik had stayed back in Pakistan after the conference. “Ours was a very short trip of just three days including travel time, and there was a two-week gap between the conference and the meeting (with Hafiz Saeed). Mr Vaidik stayed back, and I am told he met the prime minister and others,” Khurshid said.

Aiyar said in a text message: “He (Vaidik) was with me at the invitation of the Regional Peace Institute Islamabad.” Vaidik did not respond to calls and SMSes.

In Parliament, Congress MPs created an uproar over Vaidik, a journalist “close to the RSS”, meeting “India’s most wanted terrorist” as an “intermediary”, and demanded an explanation from the government.

Later, party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed stressed the point that three of Vaidik’s former colleagues in the Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation were now in the PMO, and demanded to know if Vaidik had met Saeed “at the instruction of the Prime Minister”.

“Vaidik belonged to the same organisation Vivekananda International Foundation, whose members Nripendra Misra and Ajit Doval are working for the Modi government as Principal Secretary, Additional Principal Secretary in PMO and as National Security Adviser,” Ahmed said.

“Now the fourth person, who also worked in the Foundation, Vaidik,… has met the most wanted terrorist in India, who is an accused in Mumbai terror strikes. A serious question arises. Did he go to meet Hafiz Saeed at the instruction of the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister and the government must come clean on it,” he said.

In the afternoon, soon after Parliament was disrupted over the issue, Saeed posted a series of mocking tweets, and claimed that Vaidik had asked him if the Jamaat-ud-Dawa would protest against a visit by Modi to Pakistan.

“Dr. Vaidik asked if we would protest Modi’s visit to Pakistan, on which I replied, ‘We don’t participate in such politics & protests’,” Saeed tweeted from the handle @HafizSaeedJUD.

He also said, “Row in Indian parliament over a journalist’s meeting with us shows the extremism, narrow mindedness of their politicians. Utterly Shameful.

“Sadly, so called ‘Secular’ India is unable to bear an informal meeting of her journalist, Mr. Videk [Vaidik]; another e.g. of Indian narrow mindedness… We meet everyone with an open heart, whoever wants to meet; regardless of nation, belief or religion. #VidekMeeting”

On his part, Ramdev, with whom Vaidik is understood to be close, tweeted, “Got to know about Vaidik Ji’s meeting with Hafiz Sayed through Media. I am sure, he must have conveyed the path of satya & ahinsa to him… Ved Prakash Vedic [Vaidik] Ji has always been a supporter of [Ramdev’s] Bharat Swabhiman movement and issues that the movement has raised.”

In Rajya Sabha, Congress MPs forced two adjournments during Question Hour and, despite a clarification from the government that it had nothing to do with Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed, demanded a detailed statement on the “purpose and motive behind the meeting”, whether Vaidik had sought the government’s permission beforehand, and who had facilitated it.

Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that for India, Saeed was a terrorist, the government had nothing to do “directly, indirectly or even remotely” with any journalist meeting him, and that the “government has not sanctioned permission to anyone for meeting him (Saeed)”.

In Lok Sabha, the Congress’s K C Venugopal, RSP’s N K Premachandran and IUML’s E Ahamed raised the matter.

“The meeting of Ved Pratap Vaidik with Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and a wanted terrorist in India and abroad is a serious issue. The claims of Vaidik as an intermediary and missionary is a matter of serious concern. I would like to know from the government whether Shri Vaidik has sought the permission from the Government of India to meet such a wanted, dreaded terrorist like Hafiz Saeed,” Venugopal said.

Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia exhorted the Chair to extract a reply from the government, but Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said, “You can’t compel the government to make a statement.”

Outside Parliament, former minister Anand Sharma said “such meetings cannot take place without the knowledge of officials”, and asked, “Was the Government of India in the loop?”

The BJP and RSS appeared to disapprove of Vaidik’s move. RSS leader and the BJP’s joint general secretary (Organisation), V Satish, tweeted, “Nothing can be convincing meeting Terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed and that too by Vedpratap Vaidik… Shaking hands with the terrorist cannot be justified. You let us down Vaidikji…”

Vaidik himself told reporters, “Journalists in Pakistan know me for decades. They made a gesture (about meeting Saeed) to me and I said all right I will meet him. It was no big deal for me. It was a simple thing. For me it was like a normal meeting. I have been meeting the Maoists of Nepal, Taliban of Afghanistan… If they raise the issue in Parliament, it is good as they will publicise me against my will. But nothing will come out of it.”

(With PTI inputs)

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