An Indian minister has hit back at Barack Obama after the former US president called on Narendra Modi to do more to protect India’s Muslim minority community.
“Perhaps six Muslim-dominated countries were bombed due to [Mr Obama]. More than 26,000 bombs were dropped – from Syria and Yemen to Saudi [Arabia] and Iraq,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman told a press conference in New Delhi. “Why would anyone listen to any allegations from such people?”
Ms Sitharaman, from Modi’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), added: “It was surprising that when the PM [Modi] was visiting the US, a former US president was making a statement on Indian Muslims.”
“I am speaking with caution, we want a good friendship with the US. But comments keep coming from there on India’s religious tolerance,” she said.
The remarks came after Mr Obama told CNN that the issue of the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” was worth raising.
Without such protection, he said, there was “a strong possibility that India at some point starts pulling apart”.
Mr Modi’s high-profile state visit to the US last week was punctuated with calls from Amnesty and other human rights organizations asking President Joe Biden to raise the grave concerns over “increasing violence against religious minorities, shrinking civil society space and criminalization of dissent” seen after the Hindu leader took over as prime minister in 2014.
Mr Modi has presided over a “period of rapid deterioration of human rights protections”, Amnesty said.
This was Mr Modi’s first state visit to the US and almost two decades after the US revoked his visa over the 2002 riots in India’s Gujarat, where he was then the state’s chief minister.
Back then, the US cited concerns that Mr. Modi had done nothing to stop anti-Muslim violence that left more than 1,000 dead.
In a recent report, the US State Department raised concerns over the treatment of Muslims and other religious minorities in India under the Hindu nationalist party.
Initially, the White House officials said that Mr Biden “will not lecture the Indian prime minister on India’s human rights track record”, but he later said that human rights and other democratic values were discussed between the two leaders during their talks.
The finance minister is not the only BJP leader to hit back at Mr Obama. Senior party leader and a state minister from BJP, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said there are many “Obamas” in India “who need to be taken care of”.
“There are many Hussain Obama in India itself. We should prioritize taking care of them before considering going to Washington,” he said in response to a journalist over the former US president’s remarks on the Muslim minority in India.