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Barack Obama's Siri Fort speech not a "parting shot" at BJP: White House

The US has refuted allegations that President Barack Obama's speech at the Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi, where he delivered a powerful message against religious extremism in India, was a "parting shot" aimed at the ruling BJP.



Washington: The US has refuted allegations that President Barack Obama's speech at the Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi, where he delivered a powerful message against religious extremism in India, was a "parting shot" aimed at the ruling BJP.

The speech that the President delivered on January 27, the last day of his three-day India trip, in its entirety was about the "core democratic values and principles" of both the US and India, the White House said yesterday.

During the 35-minute address in a US-style Town Hall meeting, Obama had made a strong pitch for religious tolerance, cautioning that India will succeed so long as it was not "splintered along the lines of religious faith".

"I don't believe this was a parting shot by any means. This was simply the President speaking to what makes us great democratic nations," Phil Reiner, senior director, South Asia Affairs at the National Security Council of the White House said.

"If you look at the entirety of the speech, the speech was about how both the United States and India have these core democratic values and principles that allow us to continue to provide for all of our people," Reiner told reporters at a briefing held at the Washington Foreign Press Centre.

Responding to questions, Reiner strongly refuted allegations that Obama's remarks on religious tolerance was aimed at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The Prime Minister spoke to the same values and core principles the night previous. If you look at the Delhi declaration, it's the first statement of the fundamental freedoms as a core principle between the two of us that we agree upon," he argued.

"If you look at the context of the entire speech, it's really about inclusivity. It's about the power of diversity. It's about how the empowerment of every individual within society actually creates economic growth and makes us common partners in all of these initiatives," Reiner stressed.

Obama's comments in the backdrop of controversies over religious conversion and "ghar wapsi" programmes of some Hindutva outfits, triggered a fierce debate in the social media with some taking exception to his "lecturing India" and others seeing them as a timely reminder to the government.

His address to a select gathering of some 1,500 people in Siri Fort auditorium was the US leader's only public speaking engagement without any Indian leader by his side. He received rapturous cheers several times. "One of the things that I was able to see in terms of the conversation between the President and Prime Minister was the role that India's democratic process and the example that it sets can play," Reiner said in response to another question.

"We have seen the power of that, the symbolic element of the world's largest democratic election in history and the example that that can set, perhaps, if we look to the situation in Sri Lanka.

"Obviously, the situation in Bangladesh is a tense one, but I think the two leaders during this visit were able to point to the power of democratic forces and what it can do to empower all of its citizens.

"I think this is an ongoing conversation that we've seen between the two leaders and one that we take very seriously and would continue to promote," he noted. PTI

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