On a visit to Delhi in the mid-1980s, I spent a rather boring evening at the India International Centre, listening to journalists boast about their proximity to ministers. It was not meant to be that way. A friend had invited me for dinner.
But what was supposed to be dinner for two had turned into a gathering of many, most of them pickled in the booze they had imbibed over the years at someone else’s expense. That was one of the first insights into the media fraternity of Delhi: Journalists didn’t pay for their liquor; they got someone else to pick up the bill.
I am sure there were honourable exceptions then as there are now, but this rule would hold true for most of them. With every round of whiskey being served, the chaps turned more garrulous and soon it became some sort of a childish competition with each making a taller claim than the other.
Someone spoke of being summoned late in the night by Shankarrao Chavan to help him resolve a ticklish issue. Before he could complete, another person butted in with how he was stuck with a petulant V P Singh.
A third sought to titillate with tidbits of Bansi Lal conspiring against... (“I can’t tell you that, he swore me to secrecy”) while a resident editor, his jaw dipping into the whiskey in his glass, promised to give me a ‘big story’ on Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, which he actually did. What I had not bargained for is that this was merely a bait to plant a story on me later.
The characters have changed but journalists in Delhi haven’t. To be seen as being high in the pecking order you have to be seen rubbing shoulders with politicians, preferably ministers, or at least known to be counted among their confidants. Proximity by itself is not enough.
You should be perceived to be an ‘adviser’ on policy and politics to men and women who matter. Whether perception and reality are far removed from each other is, frankly, immaterial. What is material is your ability to project yourself as an influence-peddler or, to use a less polite term, a power-broker.
It is equally important that you should be seen as being on the right side of the fence. This is not about loyalty or ideology; it is about survival for many, prosperity for some. The moment a ship sinks, you race to tie your flag to the mast of another. Congress today, BJP tomorrow.
And so it is that a certain Ved Pratap Vaidik, of whom few had heard even in Delhi, shot into primetime prominence this past week by playing Scarlet Pimpernel, pretending he was doing so for the NDA Government, while on a junket to Pakistan. There, he met the Lashkar-e-Tayeba chief Hafiz Saeed, wanted in India for masterminding the grisly 26/11 carnage. Three things can be assumed without fear of contradiction.
The Pakistani establishment rolled out the red carpet for Vaidik, who is no stranger in that country, on the presumption that he would have wormed his way into the BJP’s favour as he had done with previous regimes of various hues.
Second, Vaidik wanted the impression that he was fronting for the Government to gain ground at home and abroad. Third, he had no clue that his Pakistani adventure would blow up in his face so horribly.
It is amusing that so much media space, time and hype should have been expended on a professional gadfly who, in the past, has been known to promote himself as Mrs Indira Gandhi’s chief foreign policy adviser, Rajiv Gandhi’s negotiator for the neighbourhood, the most trusted aide of P V Narasimha Rao and the man who brokered a deal with the Taliban during the Kandahar crisis.
At one point, Vaidik also began writing paeans to Rahul Gandhi, declaring him the best leader India has. He abandoned the project after Gandhi gave him the short shrift.
Those who know Vaidik also know about his rather dubious track record as a ‘journalist’. That fact, however, has never been an obstacle for him to cruise along the corridors of power; journalism for him was always a convenient cover for activities that had or have little to do with what a journalist is supposed to do.
And so he thought his claimed proximity to Baba Ramdev would facilitate his transition from being a Congress busybody to a BJP one. What he had not reckoned with is that the Modi Sarkar has silently changed the rules of the game: fixers and gadflies are not welcome.
True, these are still early days and Delhi’s fixer-journalists are too tenacious to be shaken off easily. But, if morning shows the day, then Vaidik and his ilk are in for unhappy times. That’s the way it should be.
The writer is an NCR-based journalist. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta