Obama's message on tolerance was 'universal': US ambassador

Days after the US President made a strong pitch for religious tolerance during an address here, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma on Friday downplayed that it was a subtle message to India, saying Barack Obama's message was "universal" and he was speaking as much for American people as for Indians.

PTI| Updated: Jan 30, 2015, 19:03 PM IST

New Delhi: Days after the US President made a strong pitch for religious tolerance during an address here, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma on Friday downplayed that it was a subtle message to India, saying Barack Obama's message was "universal" and he was speaking as much for American people as for Indians.

"This was a message that was for all people and not just people in India. It was universal. President likes to talk about these universal rights," Verma said during an interview with Karan Thapar in his programme "To the point".

"The words speaks for themselves and they are powerful. As are the words he said before that...That we seek out the best in people and that peace often starts within ones heart....

"...We also have to look at whats in hearts and minds of people, support their democratic aspirations, dreams, support for rights for equality and tolerance...He was talking as much to the American people and people around the world as he was to people of India," Verma said.

Delivering a powerful address just before his departure after a three-day visit here, Obama cautioned against religious extremism saying "every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination".

Making a strong pitch for religious tolerance, he had said India will succeed so long as it was not "splintered along the lines of religious faith".

Obama's comments came in the backdrop of controversies over religious conversion and "ghar wapsi" programmes of some Hindutva outfits.

Verma said the response at Siri Fort was a very emotional and spontaneous one and the feedback from political, non governmental and civil society has been "exceptionally positive".

Asked if the speech had a message to the Indian government, Verma said, "I do not know. When he was here four years ago, he (Obama) spoke in Parliament and laid out his visions, where he thought India-US relationship could go.

"This was a speech to people, specifically to young people to think about some of these issues and that governments are inherently limited.... And that we do need people to stand up for these basic values of diversity and tolerance, peace, resolution of disputes peacefully. Those are kinds of things he wanted to communicate to young people," Verma said.