The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hey Ram! God save the govt

New Delhi, Sept. 12: No ?incontrovertible? proof exists to establish that Lord Ram ever lived, the government has submitted in writing before the Supreme Court.

The declaration ? an observation in line with the scientific temperament of a self-styled secular administration ? has unwittingly handed the Sangh parivar a weapon.

Quick to construe the affidavit as an affront to Lord Ram ? worshipped and idolised by millions of Indians but transformed into a potent electoral symbol by the BJP ? the Sangh is now threatening to unleash a political storm in the run-up to the Gujarat polls.

??the contents of the Valmiki Ramayana, the Ramcharitamanas by Tulasidas and other mythological texts?. cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters, or the occurrence of the events, depicted therein,? the government said in the affidavit.

The affidavit was filed in response to a notice on several petitions seeking to stop the Sethusamudram project that seeks to build a sea link between the east and west coasts by dredging a 167km channel through the Indian Ocean.

The document was filed by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI), which reports to the culture ministry headed by Ambika Soni, no longer in Sonia Gandhi?s close circle.

The timing of the affidavit has also landed the government in a fix: it coincided with a ?nation-wide? campaign by the VHP against the dredging project. The VHP feels that the project will destroy Ram Setu (the partly submerged Adam?s Bridge), a bridge that Ram was supposed to have built with the help of the vanarsena on his way to Lanka to free Sita.

The sea around Adam?s Bridge is too shallow for ships. The Rs 2,427-crore dredging project will allow ships to sail between the east and west coasts of India without having to circumvent Sri Lanka, saving 780km and up to 30 hours of sailing time.

Sensing a political windfall in the government?s declaration, the BJP, so far lukewarm towards the VHP campaign, jumped on the bandwagon. The party has drawn a parallel between the setu campaign and the Ram temple movement.

?I told the Prime Minister (at a dinner meeting) that the affidavit was highly objectionable. I told the law minister that it should be immediately withdrawn,? L.K. Advani said.

The VHP?s Praveen Togadia asked the Congress to remove the immortal words ?Hey Ram!? from Mahatma Gandhi?s samadhi.

The Congress, worried about the fallout of the gathering storm, did not comment on the observation on lack of proof but said the canal project was started when the NDA was in power.

Environment activists, too, have objected to the project ?but on the ground that it would destroy the fragile marine ecology of the region.

The affidavit, filed by C. Dorjee, director (monuments), ASI, addressed religious concerns with sensitivity but stressed the importance of material evidence.

?While? the ASI is aware of, and duly respects, the deep religious import bestowed upon these texts by the Hindu community across the globe?. Study of human history, which is the primary object of the ASI, like other sciences must be carried out in a manner using available technological aids and its findings must be based on tangible material evidence,? the affidavit said.

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