All those who were crying hoarse the other day that US President Barack Obama's comment on religious intolerance during his recent visit to India was not a "veiled message" to the ruling NDA government but a spur-of-the-moment observation will now need some extra lung power to defend their (weak) stand. This is because at an inter-faith meeting in Washington on Thursday Obama not only repeated his criticism of India's increasingly dubious record on religious intolerance, but used much stronger language to drive home his point.
In Delhi, a day after he witnessed India's military might ('It's like showing an Alto to a BMW owner,' was the joke on Twitter) as part of the Republic Day celebrations, Obama said : "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".
Though he made no direct reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was banned from US travel for nearly a decade until 2014 after Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, but the message, I think, was crystal clear: The government must use all its powers to stop the recurrent verbal barbs and physical attacks on minority communities across India. About a fifth of India's 1.27 billion people identify themselves as belonging to faiths other than Hinduism. The White House, however, later said that his remarks on religious tolerance in Delhi invoked a shared value, and they were "misconstrued".
That Obama's Delhi message was not " misconstrued " was pretty obvious on Thursday when he said that in the past years, "religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs--acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation."
Though the White House crisis-control manager tried once again to put the sharp and direct messaging in perspective-- sugar-coating it with the usual 'India is a close friend and partner' statement--the second reference to the religious climate in the country can be only read as a criticism on the current government.
Interestingly, the message came on a day when hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church in New Delhi to protest against five attacks on churches in the city in the past two months. Later in the day, home minister Rajnath Singh met with Christian leaders and assured them that the attacks would be investigated without delay and that a statement on the safety of the community would be made after the Delhi elections on February 7.
Security for minorities, Mr Singh, is a praiseworthy promise but a much more important step would be to contain the loose cannons in Sangh Parivar from making derisive and aggressive comments against the minority communities.
The word secular may go missing from government advertisements but then we still do have the Article 25 (the Right to Freedom of Religion) in the 1949 Constitution, don't we, Mr Singh?