'Religious intolerance in India would have shocked Gandhiji'

The U.S. President, however, did not name any particular religion and said violence is not unique to one group or one religion.

February 06, 2015 08:02 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:00 am IST - Washington

President Barack Obama waves to the audience after his speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on January 27.

President Barack Obama waves to the audience after his speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on January 27.

In what appears to be a reiteration of his remarks on religious freedom delivered in Delhi, U.S. President Obama said in Washington that “acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji” had occurred “in past years” in India. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast along with Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, Mr. Obama said, “Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs.”

President Obama’s comments, like his speech at the Siri Fort Stadium a week before, came from a prepared text, and likely to have been carefully thought about. At Siri Fort, President Obama was addressing young people when he warned that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith -- so long as it's not splintered along any lines -- and is unified as one nation.” The speech had invoked strong reactions in India.

The Congress party called it an indictment of the ruling NDA’s record on religious freedoms, in the wake of reports of reconversions as part of a “Ghar Wapsi” movement by groups allied to the BJP, while BSP chief Mayawati called it Mr. Obama’s “parting shot”. BJP President >Amit Shah told The Hindu the party “agreed” with Mr. Obama on the importance of communal harmony while Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he “endorsed” Mr. Obama’s comments, but added that it was “really unfortunate” he had made the remarks. After a week of the debate boiling over on the internet and television, the White House clarified that the remarks had been “misconstrued”. “I wouldn’t insinuate that there’s any baggage there at all,” said National Security Council director, in remarks many had thought would put the debate to rest.

But just a day after the clarification, came Mr. Obama’s new remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, clearly mentioning his concerns over religious intolerances in India. The other countries Mr. Obama mentioned in his remarks were Syria, ISIL-ruled Iraq and Syria, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, while also taking note of anti-semitism in Europe, the school attack in Pakistan and the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. The U.S. President also cautioned Americans from taking the “high moral ground” reminding them of slavery and racist laws of segregation known as “Jim Crow” that were brought in 1890.

While Mr. Obama’s remarks seem to only repeat the concerns he shared while speaking in Delhi, shortly before leaving, it is significant that he had chosen to make the statements twice in a span of ten days.

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