| Ambika Soni
New Delhi, Sept. 15: Culture and tourism minister Ambika Soni today offered to resign over the affidavit gaffe in the “Ram setu” controversy but defended herself saying she had asked for the “offending” part to be deleted.
“If the Prime Minister or the UPA chairperson think I am culpable, I will not hesitate even a minute to put in my papers,” Ambika said after junior commerce minister Jairam Ramesh seemed to hint that she should quit.
Ambika said she and her officials had “meticulously, word by word, line by line” vetted the affidavit, said to be drafted by a senior law official, and asked for “three corrections, rather deletions”.
Two were carried out but the third — relating to the remark questioning Ram’s historical existence — was not, she said. The minister, immediately after her return from Tokyo last night, suspended two officials of the Archaeological Survey of India, an arm of her ministry, for their failure to carry out the third correction.
“A major amendment which we had wanted to bring about by deleting a line which would cause problems was left intact which we feel is gross negligence. It cannot be overlooked,” Ambika said.
A law ministry source involved in drafting the affidavit, which was withdrawn yesterday, said the request for two of the changes was made in writing and, therefore, carried out. The third was not “because there was no written communication on it”.
As efforts to pin blame for the gaffe intensified, Jairam said in Calcutta: “If I were the culture minister, I would have resigned.”
He added this was a “personal” view and “I am not advocating the resignation of the current culture minister”, but many wondered if he had been “put up to the job”.
Asked to react, Ambika said: “I do not wish to enter into a conflict with Jairam, A-Ram or B-Ram.”
This morning, she had called on Sonia Gandhi and tried to meet the Prime Minister, but he had already been wheeled in for prostate surgery. Ambika said she had handed over the relevant papers, “from A to Z”, to Sonia and the official concerned in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Sources close to her said that on September 13, a day after the affidavit was filed in the Supreme Court, Sonia had phoned her to convey “anger and displeasure”. They wondered how senior law ministry officials had failed to spot the “mistake”.