'Religious intolerance in India would have shocked Gandhi'
Muslim and Christian leaders yesterday warned of growing fear among India's religious minorities after US President Barack Obama said Mahatma Gandhi would have been shocked by communal violence in the mainly Hindu country.
Only days after warning in New Delhi about the need to promote religious tolerance, Obama invoked the memory of India's independence icon to drive home a similar appeal during a speech in Washington on Thursday.
While praising its "magnificent diversity", Obama then described India as a place where "religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs".
Such "acts of intolerance ... would have shocked Gandhiji", Obama added -- using a term of respect for the late icon -- in comments that made front-page headlines in Indian newspapers on Friday.
He, however, did not name any particular religion and said the violence is not unique to one group or one religion.
The White House yesterday strongly refuted allegations that Obama's remarks on religious tolerance was aimed at the ruling BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP), saying the speech in its entirety was about the "core democratic values and principles" of both the US and India.
The issue of religious freedom in India -- an officially secular country -- has become particularly contentious since the election last year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fervent Hindu nationalist.
Around 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion population is Hindu but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
Meanwhile, a China government spokesman yesterday said China is opposed to foreign countries receiving the Dalai Lama, a day after US President Barack Obama held a symbolic first public encounter with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.