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11 February, 2015

US rebuke evokes divided response

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Public statements by President Barack Obama chiding India for the recent attacks on religious minorities has chilled the officially promoted euphoria over the personal chemistry between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and elicited diverse responses from the Bharatiya Janata Party government and its Hindutva ideologues.

Obama was the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. He and Modi appeared before the media after one-to-one talks to announce elevation of the strategic relationship between the two countries to a new level.

Modi repeatedly referred to Obama by his first name to impress listeners about his personal rapport with him. That did not hold Obama back from telling a home truth. Addressing a rally before leaving New Delhi, he said, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines. Nowhere is it more important to uphold religious freedom than in India.”

Obama’s remark, coming in the wake of a series of attacks on religious minorities and a spate of conversions in the guise of homecoming by those who had forsaken Hinduism, was interpreted by observers as a parting shot. Modi, his government and the ruling party were not happy but chose not to respond publicly.

Last week, Obama brought up the subject again while addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington attended by political, social and business leaders. He referred to his visit to India, a place “full of magnificent diversity…where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs” and said the acts of intolerance would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi. The government and the Hindutva outfits responded this time.

The first response came from unnamed officials who suggested that Obama’s statements were the result of political compulsions. They suggested that he had criticised India to placate the Christian lobby in the US and to prevent perceptions of closeness between India and the US racing ahead of ground reality. They also insinuated that the remarks were aimed at pressuring India into making concessions on the issues that defied solution during the Delhi talks.

For the first time officials admitted that the Indo-US nuclear, defence and clean energy discussions were marked by hard bargains. The most startling disclosure was that the US had pressured India to commit troops for service in Afghanistan, arguing they could be effective as they knew the region well.

One part of the officials’ theory was clearly wide of the mark. Far from pleasing the Christian lobby, Obama had invited its wrath by following up a reference to Daesh in his Prayer Breakfast speech with reminders of the terrible deeds committed during the Crusades and the Inquisition. Drawing attention to the treatment of the Blacks, he added, “Slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

As is his wont, Modi maintained silence on Hindu communalism. However, two senior ministers responded to Obama’s criticism.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who dismissed the attacks on minorities as mere aberrations, said, “The best example of India’s tolerance was the Dalai Lama sitting next to Obama.” The Buddhist leader, who has been living in India since he fled Tibet in 1959, was among the guests at the Prayer Breakfast.

“Religious tolerance is inbuilt in our culture,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh. “No one is insecure in the country, no matter to which religion he or she belongs.”

In an apparent attempt to meet the US criticism, he asked the Delhi police to take stern action against those responsible for vandalising churches in the capital. A high official telephoned the Archbishop of Mumbai and apologised for the refusal of visas to two Vatican representatives who were to have attended a meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

While the ministers spoke in measured tones, Surendra Jain of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, called Obama a “stooge of the Church” and said he had not been a good guest. He asked the government to weed out politicians batting for the Church.

By reiterating the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s stand that India is a Hindu nation in a speech on Sunday, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, made it clear that the Hindutva forces are in no mood to relent. In fact, he sought to widen the social divide by raising a new slogan, “One language, one God, one religion”, which is a total negation of India’s cultural diversity. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 11, 2015

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