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.