- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

CENSORED

The Indian ambassador was censored by her own embassy.

Ambassador Meera Shankar apparently stumbled into forbidden, if unspoken, territory in a speech at Emory University last month, when she referred correctly to Sonia Gandhi, leader of India’s largest political party, as a Christian.

However, when the Indian Embassy in Washington posted her speech, it deleted the reference to Mrs. Gandhi and her religion.

The backlash in India took a few weeks, but now leading newspapers are questioning why the embassy censored the ambassador, whose speech was about India’s political, ethnic and religious diversity.

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

The India Express added: “For the [National] Congress [Party], the subject of Sonia Gandhi’s religion is a touchy one and generally off-limits when it comes to official communications.”

Of India’s 1 billion people, 80 percent are Hindu, 13.4 percent Muslim and 2.3 percent are Christian. Sikhs make up 1.9 percent. The government promotes religious tolerance, but Hindu-Muslim violence is common. Attacks on Christians are less frequent.

Democracy and diversity were Mrs. Shankar’s main points in her talk at the Atlanta university on Feb. 24.

“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,” the ambassador said.

In addition to Mrs. Gandhi, she was referring to President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice PresidentMohammad Hamid Ansari.

The Indian Embassy removed the entire reference to Mrs. Gandhi when it posted the ambassador’s speech on its website (indianembassy.org).

However, the embassy could not keep it off the Internet. Her entire speech is on YouTube.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

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