Soni offers to quit over Setu affidavit

Updated on Sep 16, 2007 01:07 AM IST

The Culture Minister claims that the controversial affidavit the Govt filed in the SC on the Ram Setu issue was drafted by Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, report Hemendra Bartwal and Anil Anand.

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Hindustan Times | ByHemendra Bartwal and Anil Anand, New Delhi

Culture Minister Ambika Soni has claimed that the controversial affidavit the government filed in the Supreme Court on the Ram Setu issue was drafted by Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium. But the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had blundered in not deleting one of the three objectionable paragraphs that she had ordered to be removed from the document.

On Saturday, Soni briefed UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on the issue that continues to cause tremors in the ruling coalition.

After the meeting, Soni told the Hindustan Times that she would not hesitate to resign if found culpable by Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“I have not resigned. But I have sent complete documents with all notings to the Prime Minister,” she said.

In Kolkata, minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh said he would have quit had he been the culture minister, owing moral responsibility. He is believed to have said that Soni was unaware of the affidavit drafted by the ASI.

Soni was on an official visit to Japan when the controversy over the affidavit — questioning the historicity of religious texts relating to Lord Ram — broke out. The UPA chairperson spoke to her over the phone to express deep anguish, seeking to know as to how such a thing could happen. Soni could not speak to the PM. But she did have a conversation with his principal secretary, TKA Nair.

As the PM is recovering from a prostate surgery, Soni met the Congress chief to explain that she had instructed the removal of the three objectionable paragraphs from the draft the ASG prepared. Two ASI officials have since been suspended as a preliminary inquiry by ASI Director General Anshu Vaishya held them responsible for not deleting one para that triggered the storm and gave the BJP-RSS parivar an issue to attack the UPA. “No one will be made a scapegoat. A regular departmental inquiry has been initiated... If it comes upon me, I will not hesitate to resign,” Soni said. “We have to find out why two objectionable paragraphs were cut out and the third retained.”

On the affidavit, sources said the ASI provided inputs based on information and surveys carried out by other professional agencies on the Ram Setu. Thereafter, the ASG prepared the draft affidavit and sent it to the culture ministry for approval.

Culture Secretary Badal Das flagged the objectionable paragraphs and sent them to Soni, who ordered that they be deleted. But the two suspended officials failed to fully carry out her instructionson the file. That the amendments to the ASG’s draft were ordered in writing by Soni is brought out in a report based on the ASI DG’s inquiry.

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