India should cherish and nurture its Muslims, says Obama

Former US President Barack Obama on Friday said India should cherish and nurture its large Muslim population that thinks of itself as Indians.

Speaking at a newspaper event, Obama drew focus on the issue of religious polarisation in communities across India.

"For a country like India where there is a Muslim population that is successful, integrated and considers itself as Indian, which is not the case in some other countries, this should be nourished and cultivated," he said.

"I know Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in the unity of India. My goal here is not to disclose every private conversation I have. I think his (Modi's) impulses are to recognise Indian unity. I think he firmly believes unity is necessary for the progress of the nation," added the former US president, who is on his first visit to India after demitting office in January.

Obama said he had emphasised on the need for religious tolerance and the right to practice one's own faith during closed-door talks with Modi during his last trip to India in 2015.

He said he had made similar comments during a public interaction on the last day of his visit, which had come against the backdrop of controversy over religious conversions.

"It (his diversity speech in 2015 at Townhall in India) was a message to everyone. I have said the same thing privately to Modi. It's happening across the world due to the changes taking place. There's a collision of cultures," Obama said during a question-and-answer session at the event.

The former president, who held office between 2009 and 2017, said, "Politicians tend to be a reflection of the forces in the society If communities across India are saying they won't fall prey to division, then it will strengthen the hand of politicians who feel that way."

He said a counter-narrative is taking shape in Europe, the US and sometimes in India "where tribal impulses asserting themselves."

On being queried about the kind of relationship he shares with Modi, Obama replied: "I like him (Modi) and I think he has a vision for the country. He is implementing and in many ways modernising certain elements of bureaucracy. But, I was also great friends with Dr Manmohan Singh who launched the foundation for the modern Indian economy."

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