'I don't believe that this was a parting shot by any means. This was simply the President speaking to what makes us great democratic nations.' Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com reports from Washington, DC.
The White House on Tuesday, February 3, strongly refuted the contention in some quarters that after all the embracing, hugs and the chai pe charcha between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the American leader, in his final speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium, delivered 'a parting shot' with his call for religious tolerance in India.
Obama had pointed out that India would succeed only as '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.'
Phil Reiner, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House, who accompanied the President on his visit to India, denied that Obama's remarks were aimed at the Hindutva elements who Modi has shied away from condemning and/or the communal riots that India has experienced.
"If you look at the entirety of the speech," Reiner said, "the speech was about how both the United States and India have these core democratic values and principles that allow us to continue to provide for all of our people."
In a roundtable with select Washington, DC-based South Asian journalists at the Foreign Press Centre providing a readout from Obama's trip last month to India, he noted, "This is actually something that I would point to that Prime Minister Modi himself spoke to just the night before in his remarks to the business summit."
"I don't believe that this was a parting shot by any means," Reiner asserted. "This was simply the President speaking to what makes us great democratic nations."
"And again," he reiterated, "the prime minister spoke to the same values and core principles the night previous. If you look at the Delhi declaration, it's the first statement of the fundamental freedoms as a core principle between the two of us that we agree upon."
"So yeah, I think that has been somewhat misconstrued in the -- I mean, if you look at the context of the entire speech, it's really about inclusivity. It's about the power of diversity. It's about how the empowerment of every individual within society actually creates economic growth and makes us common partners in all of these initiatives.'
"I wouldn't insinuate that there's any baggage there at all," Reiner argued. "It was more of a speech to what are our common interests and values that help drive us forward."
In his Siri Fort speech, Obama said, 'Every person has the right to practice their religion and beliefs and not practice it if they choose so without any persecution.'
The US president asserted that all progress was predicated on social inclusion, declaring, 'That's what makes us world leaders -- not just the size of our economy or the number of weapons we have, but our ability to show the way in how we work together, and how much respect we show each other.'
'Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God's creation -- all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love,' Obama said, adding, 'Freedom of religion is written into the founding documents of the two democracies. It's part of America's very First Amendment. Your Article 25 says that all people are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.'
'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.'
Image: US President Barack Obama after he addressed the gathering at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, January 27, 2015. Photograph: Jim Bourg/Reuters