Obama sees India-US ties as possible defining partnership of 21st century

Says India needs to cherish, nurture its Muslims
Report by: 
1 Dec 2017

Former US President Barack Obama said today that the India-US relationship could be a "defining partnership of the 21st century" and that charting the course for the future will also depend on the young people of the two countries.

At a town hall organised by the Obama Foundation where he addressed young leaders from across India, he said the single most important thing he wanted to focus for the rest of his career was training the next generation of leadership not only in the US but across the world. With its largest young population in the world, India holds an important place for him, he said. Both India and the US are hugely diverse and have many common shared values, Obama said. He believed that the relationship between the two countries can be a "defining partnership of the 21st century", he said. "I also believe that charting the course for that future is going to depend on young people," the former US President said.

To a question from a transgender woman who rued discriminatory laws in India, Obama said he would not get into specifics of local laws but advised her to find her voice and tell her stories so that the perception that she was different was broken down. When he was in college in the early 80s, Obama said, many states in the US had discriminatory laws against lesbian and gay communities. Now even many conservatives acknowledge that people should not be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation, he said. He advised young leaders to work to make things better and embrace incremental changes as they will never get 100 per cent of what they want. Obama today also said India needs to cherish and nurture its Muslim population that is integrated and considers itself Indian. It is an idea that needs to be reinforced, the former US President said.

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. The 44th US President, who held office between 2009 and 2017, 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. "There's a counter narrative taking place, at all times, but it's particularly pronounced now... in Europe, US and sometimes in India where those old tribal impulses reassert themselves under leaders who try to push back and under leaders who try to exploit them," Obama said.

Responding to an India-specific question, he referred to India's "enormous Muslim population", which is successful, integrated and thinks of itself as Indian. That is unfortunately not always the case in some other countries, Obama added. Earlier in the day, he also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both leaders have shared a close bond and have previously met on several occasions in both the US and in India. The two world leaders met eight times between September 2014 and September 2016. His last visit to India was in January 2015 when he became the first US President to take part as the chief guest in the Republic Day celebrations.