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Prez Obama: Religious intolerance in India would have shocked Gandhiji

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Washington (Feb. 06, 2015): US President Barack Obama on Thursday condemned those who seek to use religion as a rationale for carrying out violence around the world, and referred to India where he said in past years religious faiths at times have been targetted due to their heritage and beliefs.

Singling out groups such as ISIS, which he termed a "death cult", Obama said religious bigotry was not limited to a nation or geography. Recalling his Delhi trip last month, he referred to India as "a beautiful, magnificently diverse country where the acts of intolerance in past years would have shocked Gandhiji".

Obama was delivering a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with Dalai Lama at the dais, the first time the US president and the Tibetan Buddhist leader attended the same public event.

"Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," he said.

"In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targetted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation," Obama said.

"So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith," he said. The US president, who was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade last month, had in fact made the case for religious tolerance the centrepiece of his parting address while in India.

A BJP source expressed surprise with Obama's reference to religious intolerance in India a day after White House gave a clarification on Obama's Siri Fort speech that had also called for religious tolerance. A government source refused to read much into this after the White House comments and MEA did not react to Obama's reference.

Although India has been convulsed by religious riots from time to time, the Obama speech at a New Delhi townhall had brought into focus the anti-conversion drive and rhetoric directed at India's Muslims and Christians by elements of the Sangh Parivar.

On Thursday, Obama offered a special welcome to a "good friend", the Dalai Lama, seated at a table in front of the dais among the audience of 3,600.

Earlier, Obama, seated at the head table, pressed his hands together in a prayer-like position and bowed his head toward the Dalai Lama, then gave him a wave and a broad smile.