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Embassy redacts Ambassador's Sonia “Christian” remark

Narayan Lakshman

WASHINGTON: In the context of the greening of the India-United States relationship, it has often been said that one of the most celebrated aspects of the two countries' “shared beliefs” is their unshakeable commitment to secularism or religious pluralism, howsoever defined.

While this was exactly the sentiment that Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar tried to convey in a speech at Emory University on February 24, the irony was that the embassy itself later appeared to have decided to redact one part of her statement on that subject — that the multi-religious nature of the Indian state was symbolised by the fact that it had “a Christian as the leader of the largest national political party.”

A video of the Ambassador's speech, posted on the You Tube website (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBWE0Bl3-a0), clearly shows Ms. Shankar saying: “Today the fact that we have a woman Head of State, a Sikh Head of Government, a Muslim Vice-President and a Christian as the leader of the largest national political party, is perhaps the best statement of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of our state.”

Yet the transcript of the speech posted on the Indian embassy's website (http://www.indianembassy.

org/prdetail1685/

keynote-address-by-

ambassador-meera-

shankar-

at-emory-

universityandrsquo%3Bs-

emerging-india-summit-

on-24th-february-2011-

andquot%3Bwhy-india-mattersandquot%3B) leaves out the section of the sentence that makes an obvious reference to Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress.

A reply has not yet been received to a request for comments made to the Indian embassy here.

While it is generally rare for any senior member of the Indian government to make a direct reference to Ms. Gandhi's religion, especially during an election year, the controversy undercuts the candid and positive nature of Ms. Shankar's remarks on religious tolerance in India.

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