NEW DELHI: Even as the Congress and other opposition parties cornered the government in Parliament for the second day running on Ved Prakash Vaidik meeting Hafiz Saeed in Lahore and his rather startling interview on Kashmir to a Pakistani TV channel thereafter, some of the controversy rubbed off on senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, the initiator of the Track-II diplomacy, of which Vaidik was a part.
Talking to Express, Aiyar said that he has already sent a report to the government, the Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to be specific, on the June 14 conference for which Vaidik had originally gone to Islamabad along with a delegation of Indian journalist and “public intellectuals’’.
A bit on the defensive, Aiyar said, “I did not take Vaidik along, nor did I give his name. He, like the rest of us, was invited directly by the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. Our conference is fully documented on their website, after it got over, just one day affair, we had issued a joint statement, public intellectuals from here and over counterparts there, which I’ve sent to the Foreign Secretary with my report,’’ Aiyar said.
However, Aiyar is one of the board members of the RPI. Therefore, it is a bit unlikely that he was not consullted when the names of panelists, particularly from the Indian side, were drawn up. It was his Congress party colleague, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid who told the media about Aiyar’s initiative behind the dialogue.
Recounting the events, Aiyar, however, says most of the delegates came right back after the conference, titled ‘Pakistan-India bilateral dialogue on Rationalising a Peace Discourse in South Asia: Prospects, Challenges and Opportunities’. While one of the delegates came via Karachi and another stayed back for a three more days to meet family there, Aiyar says, “But Vaidik stayed back three more weeks. For what reason and how, I have no reason to know-I flew back right after the conference.’’ As for Vaidik’s activities thereafter, Aiyar says he’s “clueless”.
Apart from meeting Saeed, he gave an interview to a Pakistani news channel where he said that neither Pakistan nor India was talking about granting independence to Kashmir-that is the whole of it, inclusive of PoK. Vaidik also gave a second lecture in Islamabad at the Institute of Strategic Studies on the Modi Government.
Apart from Aiyar, Khursheed and Vaidik, journalists, Dileep Padgaonkar, Barkha Dutt, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Amit Baruah, Aakar Patel, Anil Padamababhan, historian Zoya Hassan and former envoy N N Jha attended the conference.
From the Pakistan side, former Foreign Minister and RPI chairperson Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Gen (retired) Ehsan-ul-Haq, RPI co-chairperson Raoof Hasan, the institute’s executive Director Hafiz Pasha, Shahnaz Wazirali, Riaz H. Khokar, Bushra Gohar, Farhat Ali, Aziz Ahmad Khan, Shahid Malik, Lt Gen (retired) Asad Durrani, M. Ziauddin Ahmad, Arif Nizami and Dr Moeed Pirzada, took part in the dialogue. Washing his hands of all possible association with Vaidik, Aiyar much like External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that he has no idea who gave Vaidik the mandate to talk to Saeed or talk on Modi Government in Pakistan. “I would not like to hazard a guess,’’ Aiyar said, even refusing to be drawn into any comment on Vaidik’s association with Yoga guru Ramdev. For the rest, Aiyar wanted to stick to the stand his party, the Congress, has taken, which is “the government should come clean on the issue in Parliament”.
At the AICC briefing, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said he was “intrigued by the trail of revelations” that are coming out on a daily basis regarding the event more so as Vaidik while being a columnist was also the “spokesperson of a Yoga guru, who was the ideological guru of the BJP’s PM candidate and carried out that party’s propaganda” in the run-up to the polls.
“Now a new revelation comes that Indian High Commission in Pakistan knew about the meeting with Saeed and Vaidik...There are successive revelations that are leading to the trail of unsolved mysteries and is leading to lurking suspicion in people’s mind whether Vaidik went to meet Saeed as a journalist on his own or he was sent on behalf of somebody in the government,” the Congress spokesperson said.
Surjewala added, “If that is so, it is indeed serious. .” A row has erupted over the meeting of Vaidik, considered close to Ramdev, with Saeed.
The journalist, has, however rejected suggestions made by the Congress that he might have acted as government’s envoy.