WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent condemnation of religious-based violent acts and his assurance that his government will give equal respect to all religions, the White House said, in what is developing into an awkward diplomatic undercurrent between Washington and New Delhi.
The US President’s comments came in response to a petition in December to the White House by a US-based Sikh group that pressed Obama to ask the Indian prime minister why the Indian constitution labels Sikhs as Hindus in Article 25-2-(b). The White House reply to the petition, forced by the 125,000 signatures it claimed to have garnered, did not reveal if Obama indeed raised the matter with Modi, but it cited the President’s mention of the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in India in his January 27 Siri Fort speech.
In the address, which raised a lot of eyebrows in India, Obama underscored that India’s success depended on the nation not being ”splintered along the lines of religious faith.” The President, the White House added in its response to the Sikh group’s petition, ”welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s February 17 condemnation of religious-based violent acts, and his assurance that his government will give equal respect to all religions.”
The issue, amplified by the media, has irked Indian government officials keen on elevating the conversation to the more expansive aspects of US-India ties. In private sidebar conversations, the officials dismiss the idea that Obama is being censorious of the BJP government or India, saying the US President is only making a broad point that applies equally to the United States, given frequent incidents of racial and religious profiling in America, including that of Muslims and Sikhs, and ethnic violence of the kind directed at Sureshbhai Patel, the Indian grandfather who was assaulted by policemen in Alabama.
Some interlocutors have also pointed to the irony of Obama haring it to Saudi Arabia, a medieval monarchy with little or no human rights to speak of, soon after his lecture to India. American Presidents have long bowed and scraped before Saudi overlords, mainly on account of the country’s dependence on the kingdom’s oil, and its record of demanding human and religious rights in many of its client states is equally suspect.But the White House response to the Sikh petition also cited Obama words that ”In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength,” while asserting ”We are committed to working with India to reaffirm this principle not just within our own countries but around the world.” Obama also made positive references to India’s secularism during a summit on countering violent extremism, citing the success of Muslim business leaders in India – ”a country with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations.”The Sikhs For Justice group which petitioned the White House has long used the US judicial system to torment Indian political leadership, including Sonia Gandhi and Narendra Modi, in an effort to highlight grievances that include claims of ”genocide” against Sikhs in India, which had a Sikh Prime Minister for a decade.