Barack Obama: Row in India over former US president’s remarks on Muslim rights

Former US President Barack Obama has come under fire from the leaders of India’s ruling party over recent comments he made about Muslims living there.

According to Mr. Obama, if minorities’ rights weren’t upheld, India may “start pulling apart,” in a recent interview.

He was responding to a query about how President Joe Biden ought to interact with “illiberal Democrats”. The moment was when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a state visit to the US.

Barack Obama under fire in India

A formal greeting to the White House, a sumptuous state dinner, and the signing of many significant agreements all served to highlight the three-day visit. Additionally, Mr. Modi spoke before a joint meeting of the US Congress.

The comments made by Mr. Obama in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that aired before his address to Congress were widely covered in India.

Before referring to Mr. Modi as one, Ms. Amanpour talked about the “threat to democracy” that so-called “illiberal democrats” pose.

She questioned, “How should a president engage with those kinds of leaders, either in naming them or in dealing with them?”

It was described as “complicated” by Mr. Obama, who then spoke about his own interactions with allies with whom he had to maintain cordial connections despite the fact that their governments may not have been “ideally democratic.” He continued by saying that it was “appropriate” for the US president to speak out against “trends that are troubling” whenever feasible, whether in public or privately.

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“The preservation of the Muslim minority in a predominantly Hindu India is something worth emphasising if the president meets with Prime Minister Modi. I know Prime Minister Modi well, and if we were to have a conversation, I would make the point that if you don’t defend the rights of ethnic minorities in India, there’s a good chance that India will eventually begin to break apart. He added that this would be against India’s interests.

While in office, Mr. Obama had a friendly relationship with Mr. Modi.

Nirmala Sitharaman, the Indian finance minister and a fellow BJP member like Mr. Modi, told reporters on Sunday that she was “shocked” by Mr. Obama’s remarks.

“A former US president was speaking about Indian Muslims when Mr. Modi was campaigning in the US, and by campaigning, I mean speaking about India.”

She continued, “There too we get remarks about religious tolerance in India,” despite the fact that India wished to have excellent relations with the US.

While Mr. Obama was president, the US bombed several nations with a majority of Muslims, including Syria and Yemen, Ms. Sitharaman continued.

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In response to the comments, India has never discriminated against people based on their faith, according to Rajnath Singh, the defence minister.

He added that those making remarks against India’s minority rights should “also think about how many Muslim countries they have attacked” in order to better comprehend India’s secular nature.

Obama and the US have not responded to these remarks in the media.

Business executives and members of the sizable and powerful Indian diaspora in the US, which includes many Silicon Valley CEOs, gave Mr. Modi a warm welcome. However, there were also demonstrations against his administration, which is run by the Hindu nationalist BJP and has been criticised for not doing enough to safeguard minorities from discrimination and violence.

75 Democrats urged Mr. Biden in a letter during his visit to bring up the subject of human rights with Mr. Modi. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among those who abstained from his speech to Congress.

When asked about the rights of Muslims and other minorities in India during a joint press conference with Mr. Biden, Mr. Modi added that there was “no space for any discrimination” under his administration.

Modi agreed with Biden’s comments that the partnership between the two nations is among “the most consequential in the world” in a tweet he posted on Sunday.

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Days after a BJP chief minister’s tweet generated a stir, federal ministers voiced their opinions.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, the chief minister of Assam, stated on Twitter that there were numerous “Hussain Obamas in India itself” who required assistance. He was responding to a satirical tweet from a journalist asking if Mr. Obama had been accused of “hurting sentiments” with his comments about India.

Several opposition leaders accused Mr. Sarma of issuing a “veiled threat” to India’s Muslim majority.

Political scientist Ashutosh Varshney told the Washington Post that Mr. Sarma’s tweet using Mr. Obama’s middle name was a method of “twisting” his comments into ones “made by a Muslim,” even though the former president does not practise Islam.

Mr. Sarma informed the Indian Express newspaper that he stood by his tweet following the uproar.

Credit: BBC

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