US defends TV host's comments on Golden Temple
Washington: The US has come to the defence of US television host Jay Leno and said the visual of Golden Temple in Amritsar during "The Tonight Show" was a "satirical" reference to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's vacation home.
While the US had "absolute respect" for the people of India, including Sikhs, "The Tonight Show" host's comments "are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech", State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday.
The US, she said, had so far "had not had any communications from the Indian government" on the controversial comments that have angered the Sikh community in the US which has launched an online petition against Leno.
Asked about the US government's stand on the issue, Nuland said: "Well, I think that Mr. Leno would be appreciative - I hope he'll be appreciative - if we make the point that his comments are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech, and frankly, they appear to be satirical in nature."
"But from a US official government perspective, we have absolute respect for all the people of India, including Sikhs here, there," she said.
Noting that President Barack Obama was the first president ever to host a celebration in honour of the first Sikh guru Guru Nanak, Nuland said "our view is, obviously, that Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States".
Visiting Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had Sunday asked the Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao to take up with the State Department the issue, featured on Leno's show Thursday.
"It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple," Ravi told Indian reporters here.
"The Golden Temple is Sikh community's most sacred place. Even our prime minister went there for praying in the New Year. I believe that the person who has shown it is not that ignorant. The American government should also look at this kind of thing," Ravi had said.