Obamas charm India with sensibility and common touch

obamacoupleNEW DELHI: Always an eloquent and engaging speaker, United States President Barack Obama at his town hall speech in Siri Fort touched the right chords while addressing the 2,000 strong crowd.

He spoke about gender equality, women power, religion, the need for education and Shah Rukh Khan. The latter not once but twice.

Obama’s speech on religion was remarkably important. His remarks come at a time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused by rival political parties of not checking pro-Hindu activists and groups seen to have been emboldened by the BJP’s rise to power in May last year.

Modi’s rise to power has emboldened right-wing activists to openly declare India a nation of Hindus, posing a challenge to its multi-faith constitutional commitment. About a fifth of India’s 1.27 billion people identify themselves as belonging to faiths other than Hinduism.

Modi has warned lawmakers from his own party to stop promoting controversial issues such as religious conversions and to focus on economic reforms.

Obama bonded warmly during his three-day trip with Modi, who until a year ago was persona non grata in Washington and was banned for nearly a decade from visiting the United States after deadly Hindu-Muslim violence in a state he ruled in 2002.

Here are some of FirstPost’s favourite moments from Obama’s speech:

On Women power

“If a nation wants to become developed, it has to treat its women well. It has to treat its women with respect and dignity. I’m married to a strong and talented women. Michelle isn’t afraid to speak her mind or tell me when I’m wrong – which happens pretty even. Every daughter is as important as a son. It’s incredible to see all the women in the Indian armed forces.”

On caste and racial discrimination:

“Sometimes I have been discriminated against on the basis of the colour of my skin. When we were born, people like us couldn’t vote in some parts of the country. The dreams of the young girl picking a bucket of water, or the man who is driving an autorickshaw are no less important or beautiful than ours. Proud to be in a country where a Dalit can help write the constitution and a tea seller can become PM. Michelle and I don’t come from wealthy or famous backgrounds, without our education we wouldn’t be here.”

On religion:

Obama also made a strong appeal for religious tolerance during his address, weighing in on one of the most controversial topics in India as he wound up a three-day visit.

“Nowhere is it going to be more necessary to uphold (religious faith) than in India. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines.”

“Your Article 25 (of the constitution) says that all people are ‘equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.

“Every person has the right to practice their religion and beliefs and not practice it if they choose so without any persecution.

“No society is immune from the darkest impulses of men and too often, religion has been used to tap into those instead of the light of God. The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts,” Obama said.

On education:

“I want more American students coming to India than Indian students coming to America. I want to link US with Indian colleges and universities. ”

Shah Rukh Khan:

Shah Rukh Khan found mention in Obama’s speech, not just once, but twice. The first, when the President said that he couldn’t find time to dance in India this time, like he did the previous time during Diwali.

But then, “Senorita, bade bade deshon mein…you know what I mean,” Obama said, quoting from the movie Dilwaale Dulhaniyee Le Jaayenge (DDLJ).

He also said that In India, every religion’s person can succeed. “Every Indian should celebrate the success of SRK, Mary Kom and Milkha Singh equally,” Obama said.

On R-Day parade

“Secret Service won’t let me ride a motorcycle, especially not standing on my head (referencing BSF daredevils in Republic Day Parade)”

On Monday, he became the first US president to attend India’s annual Republic Day parade, a show of military might that has been associated with Cold War anti-Americanism.

Obama’s presence at the parade signals Modi’s willingness to end India’s traditional reluctance to get too close to any big power. Instead, he is seeking close ties with them all, even as he pushes back against China and take sides on other global issues.

On challenges ahead:

Obama’s visit has been widely seen as a bid to forge a relationship that will help balance China’s rise by catapulting India into the league of major world powers.

“I am the first US president to come to your country twice, but won’t be the last. We are not the perfect countries, we have known tragedies and triumphs, have lot of challenges, but we also posses the key to progress.”

During the visit, the two sides sealed a clutch of deals to unlock billions of dollars in nuclear trade and deepen defence ties, and Obama pledged US$4 billion in investments and loans to release what he called the “untapped potential” of a partnership between the world’s largest democracies.

Most significant was an agreement on issues that, despite a groundbreaking 2006 pact, had stopped US companies from setting up nuclear reactors in India and had become one of the major irritants in bilateral relations. Edited from a report which appeared in

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