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Barack Obama Supporting Muslims Angers Indian Government

Leaders of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have expressed strong displeasure on former US President Barack Obama’s recent comments regarding the rights of Muslims in India. Obama’s remarks in a media interview were aired while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a state visit to the United States.

The visit was marked by a lavish reception at the White House, a grand state dinner, and the signing of significant agreements. Despite business leaders and the Indian diaspora warmly receiving Modi, protesters and advocates renewed their calls to address human rights concerns surrounding the BJP’s governance.

Barack Obama Supports Muslim Minority in India

During the interview, Obama highlighted the importance of protecting minority rights in India, cautioning that failure to do so could lead to societal fragmentation. He said that if he had a conversation with Modi, who he knows well, part of his argument would be that if India did not protect the rights of ethnic minorities, then there was a strong possibility that India at some point “starts pulling apart”.

He referred to the internal conflicts and division India could face if it failed to respect the diversity and rights of its people, especially the minority groups like Muslims. He implied that India’s unity and stability depend on its commitment to democracy and pluralism.

Moreover, he also suggested that the US President Joe Biden should raise these concerns with Modi and urge him to protect the rights of all Indians. Obama stressed the need for the US president to confront leaders who may not govern in an ideally democratic manner.

Response from Indian Government

Obama’s advice flustered several BJP politicians who started discussing the matter on social media. A special controversy erupted when Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted a response to a journalist’s sarcastic question about whether a case should be filed against Obama for his comments. Sarma, BJP’s rising star, replied that Indian police should “take care” of many “Hussain Obama” in India, a clear allusion to the Muslim population of the country as well as misspelling of Obama’s middle name (Hussein).

Singh’s sarcastic remark was meat to mock Assam police’s previous arrests in response to a mere criticism of Modi. In February, under Sarma’s guidance, the Assam police instructed the Delhi police to arrest Pawan Khera, a spokesperson for the Indian National Congress opposition party, for mocking Modi. Khera’s arrest is part of a broader trend of nationwide detentions targeting individuals critical of Modi or his government.

Critics observed that Sarma exposed his party’s constitutional position towards Muslims. The wordplay on Obama’s middle name was an attempt to distort his original statement, presenting it as one made by a Muslim, despite the fact that Obama does not practice Islam. Many saw it as a veiled threat towards India’s Muslim population.

Moreover, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman expressed surprise at the timing, stating that it was unexpected for a former POTUS to make a statement about Indian Muslims while the Prime Minister was visiting the US. She emphasized the caution she was taking in choosing her words because of India’s pursuit in a strong relationship with the US. However, as the criticism originated in the US, she had to highlight that during Obama’s tenure, more than 26,000 bombs were dropped in over 6 Muslim-majority countries.

Mixed Reactions on Modi’s US Visit

During his visit to the United States, Prime Minister Modi received a warm welcome from business leaders and the influential Indian diaspora, including prominent Silicon Valley CEOs. However, protests against Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, occurred concurrently, with critics accusing the administration of inadequate protection of minority communities against violence and discrimination.

According to reports, 75 Democrats wrote a letter to Biden, urging him to address human rights concerns during his discussions with Modi. Some Democratic representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, boycotted Modi’s address to Congress.

During a joint press conference with President Biden, Prime Minister Modi asserted that his government did not tolerate discrimination and emphasized the importance of equal treatment for all citizens, including Muslims and other minorities. He echoed Biden’s sentiments on the significance of the US-India friendship.

However, Modi failed to address issues raised about the rights of ethnic minorities in India. Critics noted how BJP leaders were suffering with delusions of grandeur and trying to avoid a certain PR disaster resulting from Obama’s support of Muslims. Many would argue that they failed in that as well.

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