India will succeed as long as it is not splintered along religious lines, U.S. President Barack Obama said here on Tuesday while addressing an audience of students and other invitees at the end of his visit to India.
His words, along with a pointed reference to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees religious freedom, is seen as a strong statement against fundamentalism and extremism here and in the U.S. “Every person has the right to practise their faith as they choose, or no faith at all without fear or discrimination,” said Mr. Obama admitting he had often felt “treated differently” because of his background in the U.S.
In his nearly 40-minute speech on avenues for Indo-U.S. partnership, Mr. Obama spoke about religious freedom and gender equality. “In all countries, upholding this freedom is the responsibility of the government and each person. Religion has been used to tap into the dark side of man.”
He praised democracy that allowed the “poor to dream big” in both India and the U.S., and referring to Narendra Modi and himself, he said these were countries where “the son of a tea vendor can be PM, a Dalit can draft the Constitution and the grandson of a cook can be President.”
Mr. Obama referred several times to his wife, Michelle, who was in the front row, calling her a “strong woman” when he spoke of the importance of equal opportunities for boys and girls.
“I was impressed to see all the women in the Indian armed forces during the Republic Day parade,” he said.
Speaking about the kind of cooperation India and the U.S. can build, while addressing an audience of students and other invitees, Mr. Obama said, “Not just natural partners, I believe the U.S. can be India’s best partner.”
Mr. Obama drew many similarities between India and the U.S., saying he was optimistic about their shared future because, “We vote in free elections, reach for similar heights, respect human rights.” He said the U.S. wanted to be “first in line” to build India’s infrastructure, including “roads, ports, bridges and airports.”
Mr. Obama’s speech came at the end of his three-day visit to India, after which he left for Saudi Arabia on a condolence visit following the death of King Abdullah last week.
Addressing criticism over the visit to the Kingdom, for which he had to cut short a planned tour of the Taj Mahal, Mr. Obama told CNN : “Sometimes, we have to balance our need to speak [to the Saudis] about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”
Asked by another channel, News X , about the cancelled Taj trip, Ms. Obama said she was “disappointed,” but hoped to return to India to see the monument.
After the speech at Siri Fort, the Obamas spent an unscheduled 10 minutes meeting the crowd and shaking hands with them. He met Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi separately, before leaving for the airport.
> OBAMA'S VISIT TO INDIA
- › DAY 1: JANUARY 25, 2015
- › Arrival in the morning and Rashtrapathi Bhavan Ceremonial
- › Rashtrapathi Bhavan Ceremonial
- › Homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat
- › Bilateral discussions with PM Narendra Modi, followed by a luncheon
- › Meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee
- › Banquet hosted by the President
- › DAY 2: JANUARY 26, 2015:
- › Republic Day function and Rashtrapathi Bhavan Ceremonial
- › 'At home' with Pranab Mukherjeeand a round table with CEOs
- › DAY 3: JANUARY 27, 2015:
- › To address a select gathering
- › Leaves for Saudi Arabia