New Delhi: Facing opposition heat, a cornered government Tuesday denounced yoga guru Ramdev aide Ved Pratap Vaidik’s meeting with Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed and sought a report from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. The government’s disapproval of the meeting with a man wanted in India came as an unrelenting opposition took on the Narendra Modi government in both houses of parliament, leading to repeated disruptions. For the second consecutive day, Vaidik claimed he met Saeed — the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack and one of three terrorists India freed in 1999 after an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked — as a journalist. Both Monday and till Tuesday afternoon, the government only distanced itself from the controversial meeting saying it had nothing to do with it.
It came out with a strong condemnation Tuesday evening. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha: “The government totally disapproves of this meeting of Ved Pratap Vaidik… The government condemns this meeting with the Mumbai terror attack accused.” She said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had nothing to do with the meeting and had “nothing to hide”. ”We have sought a full report from the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan. Once the report comes, we will share it with the house.” Despite their majority, Bharatiya Janata Party members and their allies were mostly quiet in the Lok Sabha as the opposition MPs shouted slogans. The opposition was more vocal in the Rajya Sabha.
Earlier, Sushma Swaraj and her cabinet colleagues tried to distance the government from the fallout of the Vaidik-Saeed meet. ”Categorically and unequivocally, I would like to state that the government has nothing to do with Vaidik’s trip to Pakistan or his meeting with Hafiz Saeed there,” she said. ”Neither before going to Pakistan nor after reaching there did he inform us that he is meeting Saeed… It was purely a private trip and a personal meeting.” The opposition onslaught began Tuesday with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi calling Vaidik, a journalist, a “RSS man”. Gandhi said his party was “curious” to know if the Lahore meeting between Vaidik and Saeed was facilitated by the Indian mission in Pakistan. ”The question is whether the Indian embassy facilitated this event… Whether they helped this gentleman (Vaidik) in any way,” Gandhi told the media.
He said it was a “known fact” that Vaidik was linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. But Vaidik insisted for a second consecutive day that he met Saeed as a journalist. ”I met him as a journalist. All doors are open for me. I am not close to anyone or any party. I am known as the greatest opponent of the Congress.” Terming Gandhi’s stand as “bogus”, he added: “The Congress is associating me with the government so that they can attack them through me.” As soon as the Lok Sabha met, Congress members shouted slogans demanding an explanation from the government. Amid the din, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government was ready for a discussion. The Lok Sabha was adjourned twice over the issue.
Similar scenes were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha. The opposition said the government’s “silence” was “intriguing” and asked how the Indian mission in Islamabad was not aware of it. MPs wanted to know if any action would be taken against Vaidik. Leaders from the Congress, Left, Janata Dal-United and Trinamool Congress created a ruckus in the upper house, forcing two adjournments before noon. When the house reconvened, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government must issue a statement as Vaidik’s conduct raised concerns over national security. ”If the intelligence agencies were not able to tell the government that he (Vaidik) met a wanted man, it is a matter of grave concern.” ”Vaidik told Saeed that Kashmir should be separated from India,” Azad said. Vaidik insisted that this was not true and it would be “foolishness” to think of Jammu and Kashmir’s separation from India.