The ruling BJP on Friday responded to US President Barack Obama's criticism of religious intolerance in India when finance minister Arun Jaitley pointed out that no less a person than the Dalai Lama had found it comfortable to make a home in the country.
"India has a huge cultural history of tolerance. Any aberrations don't alter that history," Jaitley told a news conference in Delhi when he was asked about Obama's critical remarks about religious intolerance in the country.
"And the best example of (that) tolerance was sitting next to President Obama when he made the statement. That is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is part of that tolerance that he found it comfortable and India found it comfortable to absorb him in the society here."
Obama has expressed his concerns about religious intolerance in India twice since last week.
On Thursday, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event, he said: "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."
The US president first raised the issue shortly before he wound up his visit to India on January 27. Addressing a town hall meeting at Siri Fort, he had said, "India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith - so long as it's not splintered along any lines."
Radical Hindu groups said Obama's sharp parting shot was aimed at pleasing Christian missionaries and Islamic clerics. Union home minister Rajnath Singh was the first BJP leader to publicly comment on the issue on Monday, when he endorsed Obama's warning that an India divided on religious lines would not progress.
Singh also condemned the Sangh Parivar's conversion campaign, saying there is "no scope for any activity like ghar wapsi in the nation".
During the news conference, Jaitley too acknowledged the importance of tolerance in society. "That any society should be a tolerant society is a fact that each one has to accept. It is good to be tolerant," he said.
Following the strong reaction in India to Obama's remarks at the town hall meeting in Delhi, the White House had insisted that the comments had been "misconstrued".
Obama starker and more direct criticism at the National Prayer Breakfast, however, left no room for misinterpretation.
Mark Stroh, National Security Council spokesperson, clarified that Obama's message was that "freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom, and that every nation is stronger when people of all faiths are free to practice their religion free of persecution and fear and discrimination".