Mumbai: It was a very different Barack Obama at Sri Fort on Tuesday: it was not the R-Day guest who was treading on eggshells, bending backwards to please the Indians, extremely mindful of his host Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sensibilities. There was not a false step, not one indiscreet remark… But at Sri Fort it was a preachy Obama who seemed to be giving the BJP government sermons before a packed house on religious tolerance.
Perching himself on an elevated pedestal like a high priest, as is customary with American heads of state, Obama’s profound message was: “India will succeed as long as it is not splintered along religious lines.” He, of course, took the trouble of couching the message subtly in his own experiences and ‘shared values’ before he gently goaded India to uphold the “dignity of the individual.” He tagged with this other issues like gender equality and women empowerment to broaden the nature of his appeal.
President Obama couldn’t have been oblivious to the recent controversies stirred by the right wing, when he shared his ‘man ki baat’, “Every person has the right to practice his religion and beliefs and not practice, if he choose so, without any persecution. No society is immune from the darkest impulses of men and too often religion has been used to tap into those instead of the light of God. The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts.”
Implicit in this was his unequivocal condemnation of forcible religious conversion with Obama specifically reminding the nation that we have enshrined this value in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The other sermon was on climate change. Though India has decided to make minor concessions on cutting greenhouse emissions, they are way short of the promises US has extracted from China. We will hear more on this from the Americans: on paring of the carbon footprint through greater use of solar energy, wind farms etc.
Similar sermons — though the context has been different, that is, human rights — have often raised hackles in China. But, as political pundits point out, such sermons are seldom given to the Europeans, surely not to the French, when they were debating the obnoxious cartoons on Islam in the satirical weekly Charles Hebdo in the backdrop of the medieval terror assault.
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