President Barack Obama today wound up his three-day trip here with a strong pitch for religious tolerance, cautioning that India will succeed so long as it was not “splintered along the lines of religious faith”.
Delivering a powerful message against religious extremism shortly before he left for Saudi Arabia, he said, “every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination”.
Obama’s comments in the backdrop of controversies over religious conversion and “ghar wapsi” programmes of some Hindutva outfits, triggered a fierce debate in the social media with some taking exception to his “lecturing India” and others seeing them as a timely reminder to the government.
His 35-minute address to a select gathering of some 1,500 people in Siri Fort auditorium in a US-style Town Hall meeting, was the US leader’s only public speaking engagement without any Indian leader by his side. He received rapturous cheers several times.
The US President also spoke of the strong ties between India and his country which were natural partners with their shared values of democracy, freedom of religion and diversity that gave opportunities for even people of humble origins to rise to the top.
Obama underlined that India would succeed so long as it was not “splintered” on religious lines or any other lines.
He said that around the world there was intolerance, violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing for upholding their faith.
“We have to guard against any efforts to divide us on sectarian lines or any other thing,” he said.
The US leader said that no society is immune by the darkest impulses of man and that more often religion has been used to tap into it.
He began his reference to religious tolerance by pointing out that across “our two great countries” there were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Jews and recalling that Mahatma Gandhi had said that different religions are beautiful flowers on the same garden and branches from the “same majestic tree”.
Freedom of religion was written into America’s founding documents and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution gave all people right to practice or propagate their religion.
“In both our countries, in almost all countries, upholding this fundamental right is the responsibility of the government and also the responsibility of every person,” he emphasised.
Here’s the highlights of Barack Obama’s town hall meeting:
* I believe America can be India’s “best partner”, says US President Barack Obama
* In recent years, India has lifted more people from poverty than any other country: Obama
* US welcomes greater role for India in Asia Pacific. Freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes be sorted in peaceful manner: Obama
* The US supports India’s inclusion as a permanent member in the UN Security Council: Obama
* We welcome India’s ambitious targets to meet cleaner energy needs. We are ready to help in it: US President
* Countries like India need to embrace cleaner fuels to tackle climate change
* World without nuclear weapons should be goal for us: Obama
* Nations are more successful when their women are successful, says Obama
* India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines: Obama
* We have to guard against any efforts to divide us on sectarian lines or any other thing: Obama
* I would love more American students coming to India than Indian students coming to America: Obama