The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt bows before god
- New tune on Ram at Sonia behest

New Delhi, Sept. 13: The government will rewrite its affidavit on Ram in a bid to avert a political Delhidahan, the fate that befell Lanka for crossing his path.

Prodded by Sonia Gandhi, the Centre and the Congress today declared that Ram was a historical figure and not a mythological “character” as the affidavit suggested in the Supreme Court yesterday.

The government will file an amended supplementary affidavit in the Supreme Court tomorrow, withdrawing the “offending” remarks in the original document which said there was no “incontrovertible” proof to establish that Ram ever lived.

A probe will also be launched to find out how the references were inserted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and why religious sensitivities were not heeded.

Ambika Soni, the minister of culture and tourism under whose jurisdiction the ASI falls, is in Japan and is likely to return by the end of the week.

The push for the volte-face came from Sonia Gandhi, who was “extremely upset” about the way the Sangh parivar has been tarring her credentials since the contents of the ASI affidavit were made public, sources said. They added that the Congress president wanted to ensure that communal elements do not give the controversy a sectarian colour and fan religious flames.

Early in the day, the Congress president advised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to have the contentious references deleted. Initially, Singh is believed to have told her the government would “look into the matter”. But Sonia insisted there should be no delay because the BJP’s campaign had to be nipped in the bud.

Singh spoke to law minister H.R. Bharadwaj, who called a news conference in haste.

Bharadwaj, whose ministry vets every legal affidavit filed by the government, swore that Ram’s existence could not be questioned. “Just as the Himalayas are Himalayas and the Ganga is Ganga, Lord Ram is Lord Ram,” he said. “There is no requirement of any proof to establish the existence.”

The cabinet committee on political affairs and the Congress’s core committee assessed the fallout this evening.

The Congress was supposed to issue a statement, but nothing materialised till late tonight. Party leaders who responded to phone calls had one refrain: “Soniaji saved us.”

Travelling the extra mile, Bharadwaj said: “Lord Ram is an integral part of the life of Hindus. Ram cannot be said to be alienable from Indian ethos. These are matters of faith and cannot be made a subject matter of debate and litigation. Everything exists because of Ram.”

The Congress’s early assessment was the Sangh campaign might not take off after Sonia’s intervention. But L.K. Advani insisted that the Prime Minister and Sonia should apologise.

The VHP, buoyed by the response to yesterday’s campaign against the canal project, also turned up the heat with a rider. The parishad said it would not let any political party (read the BJP) hijack the programme like the Ram temple movement.

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