Obama’s remarks on Mahatma, Vivekanada have no takers?

Updated: Jan 28, 2015, 14:41 PM IST

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle made the 66th Republic Day celebrations, a memorable event for Indians across the globe and drew attention of the world towards India’s moment of pride and glory. The Prime Minister of India – Narendra Modi - played a proud host to Obama, who created history by becoming the first US President to grace the prestigious ceremony of the world’s largest democracy.

Obama’s 3-day visit to the Indian sub-continent was indeed the talking point. The media tracked his movement closely and left no stone unturned in making headlines that revolved round the high-profile visit - right from Mrs Obama’s floral prints to the Prime Minister’s outfit with his name striped on the fabric--everything was under the scanner.

On the third day of his second trip to India, Obama addressed a huge gathering at the Siri Fort in Delhi which included Noble Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi.

In his address, specifically aimed at the youth of India, Obama made references to a number of pertinent issues which included religion. He recalled names of great Indians – Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda. He spoke about how the two personalities influenced America and how their philosophies had an impact on them.

The US President even talked about how Swami Vivekananda was instrumental in taking Hinduism and Yoga to the US. Obama took a leaf out of Swami Vivekanada’s speech in Chicago and went on to address us as “My dear Indian sisters and brothers.”

But interestingly what grabbed eyeballs was this excerpt from his speech: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, as long as it is not splintered along any lines, and it is unified as one nation”.

In his statement, Obama made no reference to any specific community. But certain members from the media chose to paint his speech with a certain colour. A few of them, also ran headlines suggesting that Obama’s religious remarks were aimed at the controversial “ghar wapasi” programme. Did Obama tell these journalists that he was referring to “ghar wapasi”? That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The writers who were quick enough to draw their own conclusions must have certainly banked on assumptions to produce sensational articles that could not only grab eyeballs but also serve purposes best known to them!

Else why would someone even try to misconstrue US President’s generic statement to make it sound like an indirect message to a certain community or a public figure?

The self-proclaimed custodians of secularism must answer if their outrage is only restricted to ghar-wapasi. Why do they turn blind when missionaries in large numbers sponsor mass conversions of Hindus to their faith? Have they been equally vocal about the atrocities meted out by the Boko Haram? Or have they laid equal emphasis on the forcible conversion of Hindus in Pakistan?

Mr. President of the US addressed Indians and spoke on issues that he felt were important. But a few “veterans” from media chose to cherry pick his remarks and tweet about how his views on religion were a reminder to the majority of Indians of the secular fabric of the nation. Sadly, Obama’s mere mention of Shah Rukh Khan grabbed more eyeballs than the ones on Mahatma and Vivekananda.

Interestingly, for those who don’t know, a recent study commissioned by National Sikh Campaign in America has come up with a revelation that a majority of Americans are unaware about Sikhs or Sikhism. The study was to provide Sikhs a foundation for awareness-based initiatives that dispel the misperceptions that have driven the dramatic rise of hate-based violence against Sikhs since 9/11 in the US. Now, will our Indian journalists debate on the same?

These 'veterans', who seem to have been extremely influenced by Macaulay, have little knowledge about India whose principles are well etched in the philosophy of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”. Jews, Zoroastrianism, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims have found safe shelter in ‘Hindustan’. Hanukah, Eid and Christmas are celebrated here with as much fervour as Diwali. These communities have been integral parts of the country for centuries. This was possible because the people of this land have whole-heartedly embraced people from other faiths and have let them practise theirs with dignity.

So, by quoting Obama, these journalists needn’t make desperate attempts to ignite controversies. India has always been known for its pluralism and shall remain a safe abode to the varied faiths of the world. We certainly don’t need tutors to educate us about the same.

Writing inflammatory articles will only widen the gap between communities. So as responsible citizens, they ought to give up the art of misleading people.