Soni meets PM, clarifies Ram Setu affidavit

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New Delhi, Sep 20: Embattled Culture Minister Ambika Soni today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and explained her side of the controversial Ram Setu affidavit which had triggered a political turmoil with demands for her resignation.

"I apprised Dr Singh of my viewpoints on the controversial affidavit filed by the Archaeological Survey of India before the Supreme Court," Ms Soni told waiting mediapersons outside 7 Race Course Road residence of the Prime Minister.

The meeting with Prime Minister Singh, who returned home last evening after a surgery , lasted 40 minutes.

Claiming that it was a "satisfactory meeting," Ms Soni said she submitted all relevant papers and documents to the Prime Minister, besides replying to queries he had put to her.

She told Dr Singh that she had asked the ASI officials to remove certain paragraphs from the affidavit, but one of these was retained, sparking the controversy.

To a specific query whether she offered to quit, she evaded a direct reply merely stating that she had already made her stand clear on the issue after she had a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday last.

"I am a loyal Congress worker and would abide by the decision of the Congress President," she said.

"If the Congress President or the Prime Minister ask me to resign, I will not take more than a minute to do so," she had earlier told reporters in the midst of a raging controversy.

Ms Soni has been in the thick of a row after the ASI filed a counter-affidavit before the Supreme Court questioning the existence of Lord Ram or Ram Setu, which has to be dredged for the construction of the Rs 2427- crore Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project.

The observations in the affidavit drew flak not only from the BJP, but also from senior Congress leaders, including Ms Gandhi, forcing the government to act swiftly and withdraw the affidavit. Two ASI officials were suspended in the wake of the fiasco and an explanation has been sought from the ASI Director General Anshu Vaish.

But the controversy refused to die down with Ms Soni's own cabinet colleague Jairam Ramesh publicly demanding resignation of the Tourism and Culture Minister for the affidavit goof up.

A day later, Ms Soni's senior party colleague R K Dhawan also demanded her resignation on moral grounds even as the Congress President asked the party leaders to refrain from airing their views in public.

The Congress Party has also said it has not taken any view or decision on Ms Soni's resignation.

Though Ms Soni had sought an appointment with the Prime Minister, the meeting got delayed due to the indisposition of Dr Singh. The delay forced Ms Soni has to cancel her trip to New York to attend Incredible India@60, a four-day India branding extravaganza beginning on September 23.

Asked if the demand for resignation from her party and cabinet colleagues had hurt her, she said : ''there is no word called hurt in politics...It is difficult to work honestly and according to conviction...I have learnt a lesson... I am a student still learning.''

UNI

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