While the Bharatiya Janata Party downplayed U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarks about religious freedom on Tuesday, saying that he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were on the “same page,” some of the political parties declined to comment during the ongoing process of elections to the Delhi Assembly.
The Congress, however, pointedly asked the Prime Minister if he had heard his “friend” and “guest.” “Without religious freedom how can we have development?” asked Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav.
Unwilling to read a message in Mr. Obama’s remarks, the BJP said there was no difference of perception on the issue between Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi.
“The Prime Minister truly, with conviction, believes that there has to be religious tolerance and freedom. It is not just enshrined in the Constitution, but is also part of Indian tradition,” BJP spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said.
Requesting anonymity, another leader said if Mr. Obama wanted to communicate anything, he would have done so in private chats.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, on the other hand, said “the million dollar question, which varies from case to case, can only be decided factually in individual cases as to where religious freedom ends and coercion, persecution and illegal tactics begin.”
Mr. Yadav pointed out that Mr. Obama had only endorsed what our Constitution said and what President Pranab Mukherjee said in his speech on the eve of Republic Day.
Delivering his farewell speech at the Siri Fort auditorium, Mr. Obama observed that every person had the right to practise his/her faith without persecution, fear or discrimination. “India will succeed if it is not splintered along religious lines,” he said. He also cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which gave every citizen the right to religious freedom.
Among the first to react was Congress leader Digvijay Singh who tweeted, “Would Modi take his friend Barack’s advice and ask his friends in the VHP to shut up and request [RSS chief] Mohan Bhagwat to stop justifying ghar vapsi [religious conversions]?”
Commenting on the “not too subtle a message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that majoritarian politics could lead to splintering of the country,” Congress leader Manish Tewari said, “I hope the Prime Minister listened to his guest carefully.”
Taking refuge in its oft-repeated defence, the BJP leader said that upholding the Constitution was the government’s policy. It could not speak for every individual and institution.