The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Been there, done that

Washington, Sept. 13: If Manmohan Singh had consulted his friend George W. Bush before the affidavit was filed in the Supreme Court, the President may have advised him to hand over the ship canal project to the private sector.

The advice from Bush would have come from his personal experience.

The US authorities recently faced a similar (though the roles are reversed in India) problem after the judiciary ruled that a cross erected on National Park Service land went against guarantees in the American Constitution separating the church and the state.

The cross has remained on Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California since 1934 as a tribute to Americans who died during World War I.

But shortly after Bush’s conservative presidency and Congress came into office, a secular former employee at the preserve went to court demanding that the cross be removed from government land.

The court ruled that the presence of a religious symbol within the preserve was unconstitutional because it amounted to government endorsement of Christianity.

The Republican-controlled US Congress, which was in charge until January this year, considered itself too clever by half.

It promptly enacted a solution: sell the cross and one acre of land surrounding the symbol to a religious-minded private owner in exchange for five acres of adjoining land elsewhere. Then retain the cross as a national memorial — supervised by the National Park Service — on “private land” to the fallen soldiers.

But last week, in a setback to the US Congress and the authorities here that may be temporary, a federal appeals court in San Francisco blocked the spurious land exchange that was touted as a solution.

Perhaps, the Prime Minister should have also consulted problem-solvers in his ministry of external affairs.

They may well have advised that the government should plead and cajole with the Unesco, the Paris-based organisation protecting world heritage sites, into taking over Adam’s Bridge (which the VHP refers to as Ram Sethu) so that the government can wash its hands of the political hot potato.

The story of the cross in the Mojave Desert, however, has a sub-plot. It has exposed American judiciary -- which many here consider to be too liberal -- to charges of minority appeasement similar to allegations by Indian Hindu organisations against secularists.

Utah has a national monument, the world’s largest known natural bridge, called the Rainbow Bridge. Like the Hindu view of Adam’s Bridge, native American Indian tribes consider the Rainbow Bridge to be sacred.

Unlike in the case of the disputed cross, the courts endorsed Native American religionists who restricted access to Rainbow Bridge although it is also on government land.

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