New Delhi: Former US President Barack Hussein Obama Friday said India needs to "cherish and nurture" its Muslim population, which is integrated and considers itself Indian.
"Humans like to make distinctions on the basis of race, religion, gender or class to feel more important than others but there has been progress only when people have “reduced or eliminated barriers of artificial distinction.
“I think those of us, like myself when I was president...Prime Minister Modi and others, our voices have more reach and we have an obligation to deliver these messages but it’s the task of all of us to reinforce it,” former US President Obama said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi.
Obama said he had emphasised the need for religious tolerance and the right to practice one’s own faith during closed door talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his last trip to India in 2015.
Recalling what he had "privately" told Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Obama emphasised how the Indian society needed to cherish that Muslims in the country identify themselves as Indians - something not common for minorities in many other countries.
"A country shouldn't be divided on sectarian lines and that is something I have told Prime Minister Modi in person as well as to people in America... People see the differences between each other much too vividly and miss the commonalities. Commonalities are always based on gender and we need to focus on that," Obama said.
Asked how Modi responded to his private message on religious tolerance, Obama dodged a straight reply, saying his goal was not to disclose his private conversations.
Obama opened Day 2 of the 15th edition of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017, hailing India-US ties. Highlighting what is common between the two nations, he said, “America and India are alike, being defined by many different languages, dialects genders and orientations…every caste, colour and creed.”
The former US president also talked about a partnership between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy.
“We can help chart course for a better future, especially when democracy is itself being questioned,” he said.
During his interaction at HT Summit, Obama also acknowledged contribution of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in building the ground for a stable economy.
"Manmohan Singh was the primary partner while we were working during the financial meltdown (of 2008). I like him (PM Narendra Modi). I think he has a vision for the country…
"But, I was also great friends with Dr. Manmohan Singh. He laid the foundation of the modern Indian economy. The unifying theme in both leaders (Modi and Singh) during my tenure was the focus on India-US relations", Obama said.