The US president reminded PM that development is meaningless unless India continues to remain an inclusive and tolerant place.



US President Barack Obama gave a stellar performance on his last day in India. In a stirring speech, he delivered more messages to Narendra Modi and his government than the rest of the country, giving the prime minister a lot to mull about. In his speech, “India and America: The Future We Can Build Together”, Obama, apart from defining India-US relationship, minced no words in reminding us Indians that under the present government freedom of religion is a cause of worry.

“No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man. More often, religion has been used to tap into it,” Obama said, subtly warning against the  bloody consequences of communal politics.

At a time when there have been a spate of attacks on churches and the RSS has intensified its efforts towards the ghar wapsi of Muslims and Christians in India, it is quite significant that the US president chose to emphasise on his Christian faith.

“In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith,”  Obama said.

“Every person has a right to practice the faith he chooses,” he added, reflecting his concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in India.

Having faced racial discrimination in his own life, the need for an inclusive society is central to Obama’s political beliefs.

Obama also subtly reminded Modi that development is meaningless unless India remains an inclusive and tolerant place. According to the US president, India will continue to prosper “so long as all Indians go to the movies to applaud an actor like Shah Rukh Khan or sportspersons like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom”. Obama’s choice of these three exceptional Indians, all from minority communities, is not without meaning. It was his way of telling Modi that his reputation isn’t based just on his development plank but also on reports of  “love jihad”, “Ghar Wapsi” and the simmering communal tensions in India.

He also invoked Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama also called for gender equality saying, “Every woman should be able to go about her day and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves India. We know from experience that nations are more successful when their women are successful.” These words of advice are not merely coming only for the kinds of rape cases being reported in India. There’s a hint of sardonic humour at display. Modi should take note that his party colleagues’ controversial views – such as Sakshi Maharaj’s advice on how many children a Hindu woman should have as well as the Sangh Parivar’s misogynist comments – have not gone unnoticed in the international sphere.

The message is clear: the prime minister must rein in those who intend to turn this diverse country into a regressive Hindu Rashtra.

Obama’s lecture on the need for promoting multiculturalism and respecting women should remind Modi that the world is watching and it won’t be fooled by gala events and photo-ops.