NEW DELHI (AFP) – US President Barack Obama warned India Tuesday it would not succeed if it splintered along religious lines, sounding a note of caution after two days of mostly upbeat talks with the country’s Hindu nationalist leader.
Obama told an audience of mostly young Indians that everyone should be able to practise their faith without fear of persecution, recalling that the mainly Hindu country’s constitution enshrined freedom of religion.
“Nowhere is that more important than India, nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld,” he said.
“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith.”
India is a secular country, but its history is marked with outbreaks of religious violence, notably against its sizeable Muslim minority.
The issue of religious freedom has become particularly contentious since the election last year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fervent Hindu nationalist.
The United States blacklisted Modi following anti-Muslim violence that left at least 1,000 people dead in Gujarat, where he was state chief minister before winning last year’s election.
Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), denies any wrongdoing and the Indian courts have cleared him of all charges.
But the failure of his administration to control the violence and his refusal to apologise have left a legacy of distrust and suspicion.
Modi has also been heavily criticised for failing to speak out against a BJP lawmaker who recently called for Hindu women to have at least four children to “protect” their religion and supported a recent spate of ‘re-conversions’ to Hinduism.