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Obama's advice on minorities timely

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

It would be easy to think that former US President Barack Obama gave unsolicited and unwarranted advice to India's leaders when he said that the country should "cherish and nurture" its Muslim population. He might even be reviled for his remark that he had emphasised the need for religious tolerance and the right to practise one's own faith in a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his official trip to India in 2015. Obama made the remarks at a function in Delhi recently. When a piece of advice is offered, it should be normally assumed that the person who gives it thinks the other person needs it and it is right to render it. Obama has enough experience in politics and government that makes his views on men and nations authentic.

Obama's reminder of the need for religious tolerance and to cherish the Muslim minority is relevant when there is a surge in majoritarian sentiment in the country and the minorities are continuously harassed and are feeling oppressed and besieged. Attacks on minorities, especially Muslims, have steadily risen after the Modi government came to power, especially in states ruled by BJP. There are social, political and physical attacks on Muslims over various issues like beef and 'love jihad'. While the atmosphere has become increasingly intolerant, aggressively rabid, the government is seen to be looking away, in effect colluding, even if only passively, with the attackers. Condemnations of physical attacks and threats are rare. Action is not taken against attackers, and killers have been praised and protected. Conscious and systematic attempts are made to rewrite history and to exclude and demonise Muslims €“ all part of a script of spreading hatred and encouraging attacks.

Prime Minister Modi has presided over this state of hate and prejudice without making any serious effort to check the trend. The man who speaks on any and every other subject has been for the most part silent on this issue. When he has spoken, it has been late, ambiguous and unconvincing. And often, when faced with possible reverses during election campaigns, as in Gujarat recently, he has himself fallen back on such discourse to polarise voters, speaking and acting like the leader of a majoritarian party, not as the country's prime minister. Obama's reminder of his past conversation with Modi is, therefore, more relevant and important now than in 2015. Democracy demands that we cherish and nourish our minorities, though this is called "appeasement" in Hindutva lexicon. But listen to the man, he wishes well and his counsel is sane.

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