- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011


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.


Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


Carlos Miguel Escarra-Malave, vice chairman of the Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the Venezuelan National Assembly. He meets administration officials.


Defense Minister Brownie Samukai of Liberia, who discusses prospects for peace in West Africa in a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


PresidentValdis Zatlers of Latvia, who meets Vice President Joseph R. Biden and House Speaker John Boehner and discusses U.S.-Latvian relations in an address at Georgetown University.

Dr. Fredrick Makumbi, director of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Uganda’s Makerere University; Dr. Oladosu Ojengbede, director of the College of Medicine at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan; and Dr. Frank Taulo, director of the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Malawi. They discuss family planning issues in Africa at a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


Mohammed Alghatam, former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bahrain Center for Studies and Research, who discusses developments in Bahrain at a briefing with the Middle East Policy Council.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.



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