India

Indian media: Obama remark on religious freedom

President Barack Obama backed religious freedom in India Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Barack Obama backed religious freedom in India

Papers highlight the controversy over US President Barack Obama's remarks on religious freedom in India.

During a speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi on Tuesday, Mr Obama said that India would only succeed if it is not "splintered" on religious lines.

"In all countries, upholding this [religious] freedom is the responsibility of the government and each person. Religion has been used to tap into the dark side of man," The Hindu quotes Mr Obama as saying.

He also spoke on the ties between the two nations and touched on other issues, including women's rights, poverty and youth empowerment.

Mr Obama wrapped up his three-day visit to India after the speech to head to Saudi Arabia to pay condolences over the death of King Abdullah.

The US president's comments on religious freedom have generated a political debate in India.

Opposition Congress party member Digvijay Singh thanked Mr Obama on Twitter for "speaking up for the Indian Citizen's rights to profess practice and propagate his religious belief", the DNA reports.

Mr Singh, in another tweet, asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he would "take his friend Barack's advice" and urge Hindu fundamentalist groups to stop defending religious conversions.

Critics in recent past have questioned Mr Modi's "silence" on religious conversions.

The issue has become a major topic of debate in the country after at least 200 people were converted to Hinduism in the northern city of Agra in December.

Opposition parties, including the Congress, had alleged that the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - which is close to Mr Modi's BJP party - was behind the conversions.

Both the BJP and RSS deny such claims.

Mr Singh's tweets, meanwhile, have drawn a sharp response from the BJP, asking the Congress to not misinterpret Mr Obama's remarks.

"I feel there is nothing on the government. If someone is interpreting it wrongly, I feel it would be wrong to do so," The Indian Express quotes BJP spokesperson G V L Narsimha Rao as saying.

The Times of India, meanwhile, says that the BJP-led government "must not forget" Mr Obama's "friendly advice" on the issue of religious tolerance.

Positive outcome

Papers, otherwise, are largely positive about the outcome of the visit.

The US has made a $4bn commitment in investment and loans to India, and the two nations have agreed to substantially increase bilateral trade.

The two countries also reached a crucial "breakthrough" on the implementation of a civil nuclear deal, reports say.

"The visit has helped redefine the relationship between the two largest democracies and brought about a qualitative change in the nature of their engagement," The New Indian Express says.


Officer's 'last message'

Image copyright Indian army handout
Image caption Colonel Munindra Nath died on Monday

And finally, an army officer died in clashes with militants in Indian-administered Kashmir just hours after he received a gallantry award on the Republic Day, the NDTV website reports.

Colonel Munindra Nath Rai, 39, was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal on Monday for killing a militant in a "close encounter" last year, the website reports.

He was killed on Tuesday in an "intense gun battle" at a village in Pulwama area of the region.

Col Rai's last status update on WhatsApp, a messenger service mobile app, read: "Play your role in life with such passion, that even after the curtains come down, the applause doesn't stop."

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