Veteran journalist, Ved Pratap Vaidik, during his recent visit to Pakistan, met with Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the dreadful 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. The interaction itself and the photograph of the meeting has expectedly created an uproar. While Dr Vaidik has sought to defend his meeting on the grounds of journalistic privilege, his critics are demanding action against him.
The Congress Party has taken an extreme position of seeking to project Dr Vaidik as a member of the RSS and accuse the government of aiding this interview with a terrorist.
Essentially there are two issues that need to be segregated and examined separately. Firstly, has the BJP or the BJP-led government facilitated Dr Vaidik's interview with the terrorist? Secondly, should journalists seek to interview such terrorists and provide them a platform for publicity or public relations?
The first question is a matter of fact. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has termed this as a "diplomatic misadventure of a private individual" and also said that the government has nothing to do with it "directly, indirectly or even remotely". External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has reiterated that the "allegation that the government facilitated the journalist's meeting with Hafiz Saeed is false and baseless". (Nothing To Do With Vaidik-Saeed Meet: Government On Rahul Gandhi's Charge)
It is nothing short of preposterous to expect that the Government of India or the BJP would facilitate a journalist's interview with India's most wanted terrorist.
However, the Congress Party, yet to recover from the tectonic shock of the 2014 election results, is blindly grasping at anything and everything to level wild allegations against the new government and the BJP, even if what they say borders threateningly close to the absurd. In its urgency to garner political mileage and media space on the Vaidik issue, the Congress Party appears to be scoring self-goals by the minute.
Dr Vaidik was part of a delegation to Pakistan led by veteran Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyer. The delegation also included Salman Khurshid, the former External Affairs Minister. The otherwise vocal Congress spokespersons are yet to explain in what capacity Dr Vaidik was included in this delegation - as a journalist, distinguished Indian or "RSS man", as Rahul Gandhi chooses to portray Dr Vaidik. If Dr Vaidik is indeed an "RSS man", then, by that measure, are Mr Aiyer and Mr Khurshid, by including him with them, covert members of the RSS as well?
Even as it waxes eloquent on nationalism, the Congress Party chooses to forget that its Digvijaya Singh referred to Osama bin Laden as "Osamaji". Further, Sushil Kumar Shinde as Home Minister in 2012, referred to the same Hafiz Saeed as "Shri Hafiz Saeed" and "Mr Hafiz Saeed" while reading out a statement. Evidently, the Congress itself has accorded these terrorists unwarranted respect, even as they accuse the BJP for no reason.
The second issue involves a question of journalistic ethics - whether journalists should meet with or interview terrorists like Hafiz Saeed. The right to interview anyone or seek information from any source is a journalistic privilege. Dr Vaidik has exercised his journalistic privilege, independently, in an individual capacity. To accuse the government for his meeting is an unfounded and unfair allegation.
As a former media professional, I personally prefer the definition of news as something "new" in the "public domain for public good". Often unfortunately, "for public good" is lost in the din of breaking news and even sensationalism. Whether by meeting Saeed, Dr Vaidik has served "public good" is something he alone can explain.
In the meantime, it serves us well to recall the late Margaret Thatcher's comment. "Democratic nation," she said, "must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend."
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